Today, after a special effort by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the CBC Working Group on Prison Telecomm Reform, chaired by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and inmates and their families, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order to lower exorbitant rates that prisoners and their families are charged for telephone calls. Because of the delay in addressing this issue, CBC member Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) has sponsored a bill for the last 6 years to ensure that exorbitant rates are reduced. The FCC order addresses the main issues raised in the CBC response to the FCC notice of proposed rulemaking, led by Norton earlier this year: it sets an interim safe harbor rate and an interim rate cap for interstate calls (calls between states); it prevents companies from using commissions or kickbacks to private prison owners as a cost element of their rate calculation; it states that the FCC has authority to regulate intrastate inmate calling rates (calls within a state), and says the FCC will ask for further public comments before it sets these rates. Norton said that, while it was clear that the FCC had authority to regulate interstate calls, which inmates and their families have sought for a decade, the CBC Prison Telecomm Reform Working Group stressed that it was important that intrastate calls also be regulated because the Congresswoman feared that thousands of inmates incarcerated in state prisons and their relatives would not benefit.
"The FCC's order is a tremendous victory for Martha Wright, a D.C. resident and her grandson, Ulandis Forte, the lead plaintiff for families nationwide in both the court case and the FCC petition," said Norton. "This family fought for more than a decade to end prohibitive phone rates and kickbacks to private prison owners. Inmates, their families and the CBC are particularly indebted to Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn for leading the FCC effort when the agency was not quick to move. However, our working group, speaking for CBC members with constituents in prisons throughout the U.S., are particularly grateful that the FCC order emphasizes our comments, arguing that current law intended the FCC to regulate both interstate and intrastate calls, and not simply calls from state to state. We intend to respond to the FCC's request for further comment on intrastate calls."
In April, along with former D.C. prisoners and their family members, Norton spoke at a CBC press conference to expose the exorbitant prison phone rate issue, and to announce the CBC response to the FCC notice of proposed rulemaking to make prison calling rates reasonable. Martha Wright and Ulandis Forte also attended and spoke.
The FCC order can be viewed here: www.FCC.gov