Today, the Federal Communications Commission is holding a workshop on prison payphone rates . In December, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on how to address the exorbitant rates paid by prisoners in state prisons across the country. The following quote can be attributed to Berin Szoka , President of TechFreedom :
At last, the FCC is focusing on a real problem: prisoners in some states might spend $240/month just to call home for an hour a week. This is an injustice that should offend all Americans — not least because breaking down family bonds undermines inmate rehabilitation. It’s a sad commentary on the FCC’s skewed priorities that the agency has dawdled for nearly a decade on this issue, regulating against a variety of speculative harms, while millions of children went to bed each night wondering their incarcerated parent couldn’t afford to call home that day.
Those pushing for greater government control of thriving services like broadband have taken to throwing around the terms “monopoly” and “captive audience.” Such rhetoric is an insult to prisoners and their families, who are truly captive to the monopoly power of state prisons. These regulatory activists are pushing the same tired narrative here: the price-controlled public utility model. That model has been tried and failed repeatedly. It won’t fix the real cause of exorbitant prison calling rates: most state prison systems award an exclusive franchise to the payphone provider who offers not the lowest rates and the best service, but the largest kick-back to the prisons. The FCC should ban exclusive franchises and kickbacks immediately — to give competition a chance. Competitive carriers will offer not only lower prices and better service, but also innovative new communication tools like email and video chat, monitored to ensure prison security just as prison payphones are today. Price controls should only be a last resort, if competition proves ineffective because of the unique and sensitive nature of prison payphones.