At MuniNetworks, we often focus on access to the Internet, but the impact of telecommunication policy extends beyond data. In 2016, families might finally see reasonable prices for phone calls to incarcerated loved ones.
Last October, the FCC voted to close loopholes and cap rates for Inmate Calling Service providers in jails and prisons across the nation. While incarcerated, folks couldn’t choose their long-distance service provider, and the prices these Inmate Calling Service providers demanded could reach up to $14 a minute. Although the FCC had some regulations in place, they did little to prevent add-on fees and service charges.
These charges proved absurdly expensive for low-income people, disproportionately impacting people of color. As if that wasn’t bad enough, people with disabilities found that the Telecommunications Relay Service (which enables people with hearing or speech disabilities to use the phone) was sometimes considered an add-on. The FCC's decision puts a stop to any extra charge for this necessary service.
We’ve covered the monopoly power that these providers have over incarcerated folks for some time. In Community Broadband Bits Episode 20, Chris spoke about prison phone justice in more detail with Amalia Deloney of the Media Action Grassroots Network and the Center for Media Justice. Deloney explained the many ways Inmate Calling Service providers exploit incarcerated people and the families.
This holiday season, the FCC’s decision allowed all families impacted by incarceration to connect with each other in the new year. Without the efforts of Media Action Grassroots Network, the Center for Media Justice, and the many people who worked on the prison phone justice issue, the FCC may have never reviewed the problem. Change can happen where it is needed most.