Court strikes down FCC caps on in-state prison phone rates

Court strikes down FCC caps on in-state prison phone rates
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A federal court has partially struck down a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that capped the rates for inmate phone calls.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2-1 decision that the FCC overstepped its authority by trying to set limits on intrastate phone call rates. The court, though, found that an FCC rule capping interstate rates is permissible.

The rule was passed in 2015, when Democrats held the majority at the FCC. Prison phone service providers later sued to block the rule from going into place, and after Republican Ajit Pai took over as chairman this year, the agency mostly dropped its defense against the lawsuit.

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“Today, the D.C. Circuit agreed with my position that the FCC exceeded its authority when it attempted to impose rate caps on intrastate calls made by inmates,” Pai said in a statement on Tuesday. “Looking ahead, I plan to work with my colleagues at the Commission, Congress, and all stakeholders to address the problem of high inmate calling rates in a lawful manner.”

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who led the push on the call rates regulation, blasted the ruling and vowed to work to address what she calls the worst "regulatory injustice" she's seen in her career.

“Today’s D.C. Circuit decision is deeply disappointing, not just for me and the many advocates who have fought for more than a decade to bring about much needed reform in the inmate calling services regime. ... It is a sad day for the more than 2.7 million children in this country with at least one incarcerated parent," Clyburn said in a statement. 
 
"But the families who have experienced the pain, anguish and financial burden of trying to communicate with a loved one in jail or prison, are still counting on us, so we will press on.”

In 2016, the FCC set the cap for state and federal prison call rates at 13 cents per minute, with higher rates for local jails.

Previously, the agency had only capped interstate call rates, and the 2015 order cut those prices by more than 50 percent.