Paper Prods FCC to Block Prison Phone Company Merger

Phone calls between prison inmates and their families and friends often are timed,  recorded and prohibitively expensive. It can cost 21 cents per minute to make calls between states — and for calls within states, rates can exceed $1 per minute. As a result, phone bills may run up to hundreds of dollars a month — a financial burden that many inmates and families can ill afford, says the Washington Post in an editorial. Because prisons receive commissions from contracts with phone companies, they choose the service providers that offer the best kickbacks, not the ones that offer the best and most affordable services to inmates. The providers try to make up the cost of kickbacks by charging higher fees. The result is a system that profits from the vulnerability of those behind bars, says the newspaper.

A federal appeals court said the FCC did not have the authority to regulate intrastate calls, so such calls have become more costly and the situation could get worse. In May, Securus Technologies said it would acquire a competitor, Inmate Calling Solutions. If the FCC approves the deal, Securus and Global Tel Link would control as much as 90 percent of the market. The acquisition would create a duopoly in an industry that already suffers from lack of competition. The FCC found that Securus provided false and misleading information in an attempt to expedite a review. The company has come under criticism for creating a website that allowed law agencies to track non-inmates without permission. The FCC is reviewing the deal. Blocking the acquisition would not solve the issue of exorbitant prison phone rates; that is a problem for Congress and states to tackle. It would deliver a deserved rebuke to profit-hungry phone companies and the correctional facilities that have enabled them, the newspaper says.