Overnight Tech: Inmate phone industry says it's not the 'bad guy'

LEDE: A leading company in the prison payphone industry said it is tired of being cast as the "bad guy" for the high costs of inmate phone calls.

Global Tel Link chief executive Brian Oliver argues local counties, states and sheriffs are ultimately to blame for the high phone rates charged to inmates and family. As the FCC nears a vote to cap inmate phone rate prices, the industry argues the agency is leaving out a major part of the puzzle -- the site commissions, that critics call kickbacks, that prisons demand from phone companies to win exclusive contracts.

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"It is about having the political courage to finish the problem and balance the answer -- not pick on the industry as the weakest players, and not take on the counties or states or sheriffs because they have more lobbying clout," Oliver said in an interview, arguing that his advocacy to end the site commissions paid by his company did not come sooner because it would have been business suicide.

Those commissions that companies pay prisons are eventually recouped by hiking rates on inmates. Under the new rules, the payments could continue but would be forbidden from factoring into rate calculations, which Oliver says would be devastating to the $1 billion industry. The industry has proposed to end the commissions and instead charge customers small fees to cover prison administrative costs for housing the phones.

NO INDICATION OF A CHANGE: The four CEOs of the largest inmate calling companies sat down last week with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is leading reform, to ask for changes and threatened legal action if their demands were not met. Oliver said Clyburn listened and asked questions, but gave no indication any change would be made before Thursday's vote. Clyburn's office did not respond to a request for comment.

SITE COMMISSIONS UNPOPULAR ALL AROUND: Even civil rights and social justice advocates who have championed the new rate caps on inmate phones calls have pressed the FCC to go farther to ban the so-called site commissions, though they would likely argue inmates, and not phone companies, are the weakest players in the fight. The FCC says targeting the commissions more directly would have been legally questionable, but a group of 22 advocacy groups sent the agency a letter last week arguing it has "clear jurisdiction" to act.

UBER HACK LAWSUIT TOSSED: A class action lawsuit against Uber in relation to a data breach revealed earlier this year was dismissed Monday by a federal judge in San Francisco. The judge ruled that the plaintiff did not make a plausible case that the breach caused injury, according to Reuters.

THE LIMITS OF SPRINT'S UNLIMITED PLAN: Sprint announced that customers with an unlimited data plan who go above a certain threshold in a month could have service slowed -- but only during times when the network is constrained with other users. The threshold is set at 23 GB, which Sprint says only about three percent of customers hit. The company says the new policy is aimed at protecting the other 97 percent. The FCC's net neutrality rules bar providers from blocking or throttling service. But there are exceptions for reasonable network management. The announcement was made last Friday.

DAILY FANTASY SPORTS SITES TURN TO THE FANS: Facing scrutiny from all over -- local gaming regulators, members of Congress and federal prosecutors included -- daily fantasy sports sites FanDuel and DraftKings have appealed to their users for public support. After Nevada's gaming regulator said the sites were gambling, effectively shutting them down in the state, the companies circulated a petition to Nevada customers calling for lawmakers to legalize the services.

page hosting a petition on FanDuel's website says that "Washington D.C., Nevada, and elsewhere have questioned our right to exist." "There are many problems facing our nation, but passionate sports fans that want to connect with our favorite players and teams is hardly one of them," the petition message reads. "Fantasy sports is fundamentally a test of knowledge. I play because I love the competition and the camaraderie. In fact, I think fantasy sports is what makes watching sports an American pastime."

THE TRADE GROUP FORMERLY KNOWN AS COMPTEL: Competitive provider group COMPTEL has been rechristened as INCOMPAS. The group says it reflects a membership that now includes more than just competitive broadband providers.

TESTING A DRONE NETWORK IN RWANDA?: A Swiss backed initiative called Afrotech and architecture firm Foster + Partners are planning to build a network of "droneports" that could allow delivery of items via drones to less accessible parts of the country. The plan's backers view it as a possible model that could be implemented elsewhere in Africa. But the first droneport wouldn't be built until late 2016, according to Bloomberg.

INSIDE JEB BUSH'S DATA OPERATIONS: The former Florida governor's campaign has dropped its plan to have a single data contractor linking his super-PAC and official campaign, the Associated Press reports. Aides were reportedly concerned about how complicated the firewall would have to be to make sure that two groups did not coordinate -- as is required by law.

REACH FOR THE STARS: Or at least look up at them. Tonight is the White House's 2015 astronomy night. One of the guests is Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teen who was handcuffed when school officials said they believed a homemade clock was a bomb.

 

ON TAP:

At 9 a.m., Facebook is hosting a breakfast to publicize its "social good products and programs."

At 1 p.m., US Telecom will host a conversation on "tech and free speech."

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

An employee of the daily fantasy sports website DraftKings did not use proprietary data to win hundreds of thousands of dollars on a rival website, according to a law firm hired by the company.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two patent infringement cases that could change the way judges and juries determine whether to award damages.

Retail giant Amazon is hitting back at a two-month-old New York Times investigation into its workplace culture.

The number of people who password-protect their smartphone is on the rise.

The Obama administration is clamping down on the way agencies buy laptop and desktop computers.

 

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