FCC defends not fighting legal challenge to prison call rates

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The Federal Communications Commission is defending its decision not to fight a legal challenge to its rate cap on prison phone calls that it passed under the Obama administration.

Brendan Carr, the commission’s acting general counsel, wrote in a letter to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) that the FCC’s stance has changed now that the group is chaired by Republican Ajit Pai, who criticized the original rule when it first passed.

“In light of the recent change in leadership and composition of the Commission, there are now several parts of the FCC’s 2015 Order that a majority of the FCC’s Commissioners view as unlawful,” Carr wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill.

{mosads}Rush and three other House Democrats — Reps. Elijah Cummings (Md.) and G.K. Butterfield (N.C.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) — had written a letter to the FCC earlier this month asking the agency to explain its decision to back down in the face of a legal challenge to its prison call caps.

“Chairman Pai’s sudden reversal raises serious questions about why the FCC is now choosing to promote the financial interests of private sector telecommunications companies over those of inmates and their families,” the Democrats wrote.

The commission voted in October 2015 to set a cap to the rates that prisoners pay for their calls. Pai, then a minority commissioner, voted against the rule.

In his letter on Tuesday, Carr defended the Republican position that the FCC overstepped its authority by setting limits on the rates of intrastate calls, though he maintained that Pai believed that prisoners are paying too much for calls.

“Unfortunately, however, the FCC’s well-intentioned efforts have not been fully consistent with the law,” Carr wrote. “In particular, the FCC has attempted to cap rates for intrastate inmate calls in apparent violation of the clear limits Congress placed on the agency’s intrastate authority, and it failed to account for all record evidence.”

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