Under Trump, FCC Drops Prison Phone Cost Issue

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Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families, the Washington Post reports. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most prisons, inmates must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies have contracts with the prisons, which receive a portion of the revenue.

Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. A week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. The issue set for court Monday was first raised more than 15 years ago by a retired nurse who could not afford to call her incarcerated grandson. The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, voted against the now-contested rate caps on prison calls as a Republican FCC commissioner. With the resignation of two Democratic commissioners in January, two of the remaining three commissioners share that position. The majority “does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates,” FCC lawyer David Gossett told the court.

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