And so why were these rates so expensive? What were people paying for?
The structure [of the prison-phone market] is a bit different. It's not like the commercial market in which we engage. What happens is, the facilities put out a request for bids, and various companies -- currently the market is made up of a few providers and two providers have more than 80 percent of the market -- would answer the bid. The facilities would evaluate the bids, and what they were looking at was what was the most attractive bid for them. What that often included was a package, so to speak, that included commissions -- commissions that we have found in the record to be as high as 60 percent, and one or two examples even eclipsed that. And so what you would find was a rate regime that included that, on top of the other security protocols and the costs of doing business. This made for a very expensive regime that we addressed.
Can you describe what the FCC decided? How will the new rules work?
Once everything is codified, is that it will require inmate calling rates to be cost-based. (This action deals directly with interstate engagement only; the intrastate rates will be the next phase, and will come forth in a further notice.)
We have set up a system of rate caps and safe harbors. The rate caps are set at $0.25 per minute for collect calls and $0.21 per minute for debit calls. So what is now a conversation that could cost upwards of $17 for a 15-minute call between states will be capped off at $3.75. Any rate above that will require a waiver from the commission. The safe-harbor side of the equation, which is a standard that will presume any rates at that level to be just and reasonable, will be $0.12 per minute for debit calls and $0.14 per minute for collect calls.
Since the vote, have you heard from any of the families this affects? What has the response been?
I am down in Mississippi for the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's public policy engagement and I could barely get out of the car for all the individuals, from lawmakers to citizens in this regions, who are just elated and so pleased that this agency -- after 10 years -- has taken action to bring about a just and reasonable rate structure for often our most vulnerable families.
We know things will be challenging going forward. But in terms of everyday people, this has been an engagement that I had (I should have maybe, but) I had no way to predict just how many people care about this issues, whether you're directly impacted or not. They recognize that this was the right thing to do -- that millions of families, the most vulnerable of families, will be able to speak to their loved ones who are incarcerated, in a more fair manner; that phone companies will be able to realize a fair compensation; and that this has the potential to address all of the other ills involved in terms of inmate engagement, including a high recidivism rate, disconnection with families, and the like. And so this action, this series of actions, will go a long way to helping to solidify family structures and to really help the nation as a whole as it relates to the cost of inmate engagement.