Leadership Conference Prison Phone Reply Comments
Re: Rates for Interstate Inmate Calling Service, WC Docket 12-375
Dear Chair Rosenworcel:
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, and the undersigned members of its Media/Telecommunications Task Force, we write in response to the Fourth Report and Order (Fourth R&O) and Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Sixth FNPRM) regarding interstate inmate calling services. The Leadership Conference and its Media/Telecommunications Task Force are committed to ensuring that media, telecommunications, technology, and privacy policies affirm and extend our nation’s longstanding commitment to civil rights, and we appreciate the opportunity to offer a civil rights perspective on this issue.
After more than a decade of advocacy and with the passage of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022, national attention has focused on the barrier erected between incarcerated individuals and their loved ones by sky-high prison phone rates. While the Federal Communications Commission (commission or FCC) will not be able to promulgate rules related to the legislation for at least 18 months after its passage, now is the time for the commission to do everything within its current authority to help incarcerated individuals in this ongoing proceeding. The suggestions made by the commenters provide a roadmap for the commission to address not only the rates paid by consumers of telephone services for incarcerated individuals (ICS), but also increase consumer protections and improve access to service for incarcerated people with disabilities.
The additional fees consumers are forced to pay are predatory and burdensome, while placing a significant financial burden on their families as well as making it more difficult for incarcerated individuals to succeed when they return home. Many of the services these fees cover actually heighten the depression, isolation, and loneliness experienced by incarcerated individuals — actively harming them instead of providing any discernible benefit.
We support the recommendations of the Wright Petitioners, et al. and Stephen Raher that the FCC should improve billing transparency and ensure ICS consumers are able to recover unused funds in their accounts. These consumer protections, which include a consumer disclosure label that builds on the recently adopted broadband consumer labels or dynamic consumer disclosures that are sent regularly and are easily saved and retrieved, would provide consumers with protections they need to ensure the FCC’s rules are enforced. Additionally, we support the comments suggesting a framework to facilitate refunds for inactive accounts. We also agree that all consumer protections should apply to all consumer accounts, including debit accounts. Misleading information often causes incarcerated people and their loved ones to inadvertently select high priced service. In addition, without clear billing information, consumers cannot monitor whether the companies they must patronize follow the FCC’s new rules protecting them, such as the new international rates and new limits on ancillary fees.
We also urge the FCC to determine that incarcerated people and their loved ones should not be forced to subsidize services they do not want or are the responsibility of the incarcerating institution. Providing services such as security and surveillance are the function of the carceral institution and are not recoverable through interstate rates under section 201(b) of the Communications Act. The cost of law enforcement support services, call security services, call recording and monitoring services, and voice biometrics cannot be passed on to ratepayers because they do not benefit the ratepayers.
In addition, alternative pricing structures must be approved if and only if those structures save money for consumers. Given the negative track record of companies offering service to and from carceral facilities, the FCC has every reason to proceed cautiously before approving new business models. It is certainly possible that a subscription service could save consumers money, but both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against subscription services that aim to cheat or mislead consumers, and consumers can easily lose money on such services, particularly if someone is incarcerated and thus does not have full freedom to utilize unlimited service.
We support the recommendations of the Accessibility Advocacy and Research Organizations to ensure that incarcerated people with disabilities are not denied equitable access to communications. Specifically, we agree that all providers must provide access to all relay services eligible for Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) fund support, plus American Sign Language direct, or point-to-point video communications without charge. In addition, the FCC should reverse its decision to deprive incarcerated people with disabilities in jurisdictions with an average daily population of less than 50 percent of point-to-point video in facilities that have broadband service.
We look forward to working with you on this issue and others of importance to our country. If you have any questions about this letter, please contact Media/Telecommunications Task Force Co-Chairs Cheryl Leanza, United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, at [email protected], and Yosef Getachew, director of the media and democracy program at Common Cause, at [email protected], or Jonathan Walter, media/tech policy counsel at The Leadership Conference, at [email protected].
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
American Association of People with Disabilities
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
Communications Workers of America
Japanese American Citizens League
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)
Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund
 Rates for Interstate ICS, Fourth Report and Order and Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WC Docket No. 12-375, FCC No. 22-76, ¶ 93 (“Fourth R&O” and “Sixth FNPRM”) (Sept. 29, 2022). https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-mandates-trs-access-incarcerated-people-disabilities.
 See Luke Barr, “Congress Passes Bill to Cap ‘Predatory’ Prison Phone Calls,” ABC News (Dec. 28, 2022), https://abcnews.go.com/US/congress-passes-bill-cap-predatory-prison-phone-calls/story?id=95892808; see also Black Enterprise Editors, “Advocates Applaud Passage of Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022,” Black Enterprise (Jan. 1, 2023), https://www.blackenterprise.com/advocates-applaud-passage-of-martha-wright-reed-just-and-reasonable-communications-act-of-2022/.
 Reginald Belle, “I Was Incarcerated. These Are the Devastating Consequences of Predatory Prison Phone Rates,” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (May 26, 2022), https://civilrights.org/blog/i-was-incarcerated-these-are-the-devastating-consequences-of-predatory-prison-phone-rates/.
 Katie Rose Quandt and Alexi Jones, “Research Roundup: Incarceration Can Cause Lasting Damage to Mental Health,” Prison Policy Initiative (May 13, 2021), https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2021/05/13/mentalhealthimpacts/.
 Comments of The Wright Petitioners, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Prison Policy Initiative, Public Knowledge, Worth Rises, WC Docket 12-375 (2022).
 Comments of The Wright Petitioners, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Prison Policy Initiative, Public Knowledge, Worth Rises, WC Docket 12-375 (2022); Comments of Stephen Raher at 7-8, WC Docket 12-375 (2022),
 Comments of Stephen Raher at 2-3, WC Docket 12-375 (2022) (describing qualifying refund methods).
 Id. at 5-6 (opposing Securus proposal to exclude debit accounts).
 See Peter Wagner and Alexi Jones, “State of Prison Phone Justice,” Prison Policy Initiative (2019), https://www.prisonpolicy.org/phones/state_of_phone_justice.html (highlighting how companies often steer families to purchase more expensive calls rather than set up a deposit account).
 Id. (describing how hidden fees allow providers to evade regulations).
 Comments of Worth Rises, WC Docket 12-375 (2022); See also United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry and Public Knowledge, Petition for Reconsideration, WC Docket 12-375 (2022).
 Comments of Worth Rises, WC Docket 12-375 (2022); Comments of Stephen Raher at 9-10, WC Docket 12-375 (2022).
 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “CFPB Issues Guidance to Root Out Tactics Which Charge People Fees for Subscriptions They Don’t Want,” (Jan. 19, 2023), https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-issues-guidance-to-root-out-tactics-which-charge-people-fees-for-subscriptions-they-dont-want/; Federal Trade Commission, “FTC to Ramp up Enforcement against Illegal Dark Patterns that Trick or Trap Consumers into Subscriptions,” (Oct. 28, 2021), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2021/10/ftc-ramp-enforcement-against-illegal-dark-patterns-trick-or-trap-consumers-subscriptions.
 Sara O’Brien, “Consumers Spend an Average $133 More Each Month on Subscriptions than They Realize, Study Shows,” CNBC (June 2, 2022), https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/02/consumers-spend-133-more-monthly-on-subscriptions-than-they-realize.html; Julia Glum, “Why I Can’t Stop Wasting Money on Subscriptions I Never Use, According to Experts,” Money (Feb. 6, 2019), https://money.com/quitting-subscription-services-psychology/.
 Comments of Accessibility Advocacy and Research Organizations, WC Docket 12-375 (2022).
 Comments of District of Columbia, Mayor’s Office of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing at 1-2, WC Docket 12-375 (2022).