Once again, a Federal Communications Commission attempt to lower the price inmates pay for phone calls has been blocked in court.
A ruling on Wednesday from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a petition for a stay filed by Securus Technologies. This puts a halt to rate caps on inmate calling services that were implemented in August.
“Petitioners have satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review,” judges wrote.
The FCC has repeatedly been stymied in attempts to lower the rates inmates pay for phone calls to family, friends, and lawyers. After a March 2016 federal appeals court ruling stayed new rate caps of 11¢ to 22¢ per minute on both interstate and intrastate calls from prisons, the FCC proposed new caps of 13¢ to 31¢ per minute in an attempt to satisfy the court. Those new caps were halted in this week’s ruling.
As we’ve previously written, prison phone companies Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies argued that the FCC’s limits fell short of what the companies are contractually obligated to pay in “site commissions” to correctional facilities. Though the FCC hasn’t tried to ban or limit the site commissions, the commission argued that the latest caps would better account for the companies’ costs.
The FCC has been able to implement a 21¢-per-minute cap on interstate long-distance calls, but attempts to reduce prices on in-state calls have failed.
The FCC’s Democrats and Republicans have split on the issue. Republican Ajit Pai criticized Democrats yesterday, saying that this was the fourth time the appeals court stayed the FCC’s inmate calling rate regulations.
“I am not aware of any other proceeding in which the courts have intervened this frequently to block agency action,” Pai said. “It didn’t have to be this way. Three times I have urged my colleagues to adopt reasonable regulations that would substantially reduce interstate inmate calling rates and survive judicial scrutiny. Three times they have declined. And so here we are yet again—left with little more than a faded headline.”