This case deals with high phone charges for prisoners' phone calls. It was opened when the District Judge Gladys Kessler in PC-DC-0019
referred the raised issues to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. In PC-DC-0019
, plaintiffs--including incarcerated persons and their family members--had filed a class action lawsuit against defendants (the private prison company CCA, and several telephone companies), seeking to declare illegal and recoup damages resulting from allegedly unconscionable telephone arrangements at various prisons and jails.
On November 3, 2003, plaintiffs (now petitioners) filed a petition (First Wright Petition) for rulemaking with the FCC, seeking restructuring of long distance inmate calling services (ICS) to address the telephone companies' anticompetitive practices that result in excessive telephone rates. Specifically, petitioners requested that the FCC "prohibit exclusive inmate calling service agreements and collect call-only restrictions at privately-administered prisons and require such facilities to permit multiple long distance carriers to interconnect with prison telephone systems" to allow competition.
Petitioners argued that the FCC accepted existing rules for exclusive arrangement and restrictions on inmate calling options on the assumption that security and penological considerations justified such rules. To show that the assumption was wrong, petitioners submitted an exhibit, the Dawson Affidavit, explaining that it was technologically and economically feasible for multiple carriers to offer telephone services to inmates at any given prison while meeting all legitimate security and penological needs.
The FCC received comments regarding the First Wright Petition. Opposing comments argued that petitioners' proposal would be technically and economically unfeasible because it would require radical "unbundling" of the private prison inmate telephone system, which would undermine security and increase costs. The petitioners countered that the proposed competitive system could be built on existing systems. Moreover, the petitioners argued that telephone companies' commission payments to prisons drive up service rates, and thus should be prohibited.
On March 1, 2007, the petitioners filed a second petition (Alternative Wright Petition) for alternative rulemaking proposal requesting that the FCC: establish benchmark rates for all interstate ICS to be no higher than $0.20/min for debit calling and $0.25/min for collect calling; require debit calling; prohibit per-call charges; and establish rate caps for all interstate and interexchange inmate calling services.
Opposing comments argued that the market was "robustly competitive" with providers competing nationally and the interstate calling costs have increased over the past years. Petitioners countered that the opponents failed to provide any data to rebut petitioners' cost analysis supporting their proposal. The main contention appears to have been focused on comparing rates over different states and the actual costs of providing services. (See Petitioners' Response to ICS Providers' Cost Study).
The FCC continued to receive comments. For example, in support of the petitioners, Prison Legal News submitted multiple documents including state-by-state comparison of prison phone rates, commission (kick-back) percentages, and actual cost of prison phone services, which has been the point of contention between petitioners and the companies that provide prison and jail phone services.
The related comments submitted until October 2012 are under CC docket 96-128. A number of them are included in this case record. The rest can be found in the FCC website
. Use Proceeding Number "96-128" and click "here to remove the date restriction" to search. Important comments can be found by using "Wright," "Friedman," and "Wireline Competition Bureau" for the Name of Filer.
Subsequent proceedings are under WC Docket No. 12-375, which is PC-DC-0028
in this Clearinghouse.David Cho - 11/25/2014