The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to cap the rates and fees that companies can charge for phone service in prisons and jails.
Right now, providers can bill inmates and their families hundreds of dollars per month to make phone calls, tacking on exorbitant fees for transactions, account maintenance and other services. Inmates who can’t afford these costs don’t have other options, because providers monopolize service.
The practice has proven hugely profitable for companies like Securus Technologies, Global Tel*Link and Telmate. Prison operators also benefit because companies pay commissions in order to win contracts.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 15 Democrats called these payments kickbacks, and said they incentivize a system in which prisons profit from charging inmates higher rates.
“Voting to endorse today’s reforms will eliminate the most egregious case of market failure I have ever seen in my 17 years as a state and federal regulator,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said on Thursday.