U.S. regulators are considering rate caps and other steps to lower jailhouse telephone rates that enrich private firms as they cost U.S. prisoners and their families as much as $17 for a 15-minute call, reports Bloomberg. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed information-gathering that could lead to a vote to intervene in the $1.2 billion prison-phone market. “For far too long, friends and family of the incarcerated have had no choice but to pay unconscionably high long-distance rates,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, speaking to demonstrators who gathered outside the agency's headquarters in Washington.
Clyburn said lower rates could go in effect “soon.” Genachowski's proposal seeks comment on interstate prison phone rules and rates. The market is dominated by two private equity-backed companies, Global Tel*Link Corp. and Securus Technologies Inc. The companies bid for exclusive contracts to provide telephone service, agreeing to pay as much as two-thirds of calling charges to government or private prison operators. Those commissions can drive fees to levels that make it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with spouses, children and parents. Prisoners make collect calls or set up prepaid accounts funded by relatives or by their earnings from prison jobs that pay cents per hour. Service providers may collect per-call fees in addition to time-based charges.