FCC delays prison phone call reforms

The Federal Communications Commission is temporarily delaying an effort to issue new rules on a variety of provisions related to the way prisoners make phone calls to their friends and families.

The agency's request for public comments will be open for an additional two weeks as result of a request from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

ADVERTISEMENT
The FCC’s effort would be in addition to new rules preventing prisons from charging more than 21 cents per minute for the calls except in “extraordinary circumstances," which civil rights advocates had been urging for a decade.

Final reply comments on the FCC’s attempt to consider new measures for prisoners’ phone calls, which allow the public to weigh in on other praise and criticism, were originally due by Dec. 30. Now those comments will be due by Jan. 13. The deadline for initial comments, originally due by Dec. 13, was pushed back to Dec. 20.

The delay is only part of what the Ohio prison agency had requested. The state office had asked for the reply comment period to remain open until Feb. 12 and regular comments to be due by Jan. 13 to allow for “a more complete factual and legal record in this proceeding.”

The FCC does not normally extend the comment period for its rules.

However, it said in a notice set to be published on Friday, “a modest time extension will more fully allow parties to provide us with more fulsome comments that will facilitate the compilation of a complete record in this proceeding, without causing undue delay to the Commission’s consideration of these issues.”

The original rule for calling rates, approved by a 2-1 vote in August, was heralded by civil rights advocates as a major step to combat exploitation of prisoners. Advocates say high fees and exorbitant rates discourage inmates from keeping in touch with their loved ones, which can further isolate them and make it harder for them to reintegrate after they leave prison.

Those rules are scheduled to go into effect on Feb. 11. 

Attached to that August order was a request for the public to weigh in with additional ways to reform the calling service for inmates. The FCC asked whether it should take steps to revise the program for deaf people and change rules for calls within a state, among other provisions.

— This story has been corrected to reflect that the comment period was not extended for the rule on inmate calling rates. A previous version contained incorrect information.