The PSC initiated hearings into prison payphone issues on November, 10, 1997. The PSC held public hearings on April 7, 1998, and received briefings on the matter as well. The hearings were initiated after the PSC received numerous complaints about extremely high phone rates being charged to people who accepted collect calls from prisoners.
The PSC ordered.the phone companies to lower their rates when a: current contract between the Kentucky Deparfment of Corrections and the MCI phone company expires on November. 15; :1999. The PSC order states: "AT&T and any other carrier that has an operator surcharge on collect calls from inmate facilities that is a higher rate than its operator surcharge for any other collect call shall reduce its tariff rate to no more than that paid by the general public for automated calls."
The PSC noted that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required that prison phone service providers identify themselves to the person being called and inform them on how to obtain the phone rate they will be charged if they accept the call. The information must be provided at no charge: [see this issue of PLN for the story on the FCC rule.] The PSC mandated that this requirement will go into effect in Kentucky on March 1, 1999.
The PSC also established two administrative proceedings, one to address the surcharge rates and to incorporate this into future jail and prison phone contracts in Kentucky. The other, to discuss fraud prevention measures and the obligation of phone servic providers to inform call recipients of call blocking and billing procedures. A full copy of the PSC's ruling is available from its website at: www.psc.state-ky-us. See: In the Matter of: Rates, Terms and Conditions for Inmate Telecommunication Services; Establishment of an operator Surcharge Rate for Collect Telephone Calls from Confinement Facilities; and Obligations of Inmate Phone Service Providers to Call Recipients Regarding Notice of Blocking and Billing Procedures. Administrative Case Numbers 368, 378 and 379, respectively.
To date, utility commissions in Nevada and Louisiana have capped the exorbitant rates charged to consumers who accept collect calls from prisoners. The utilities commission in Florida has ordered extensive refunds from prison phone service providers in that state based on fraudulent billing by the companies. These rulings have been extensively reported in past issues of PLN.
The availability of relief from utilities commission relief varies from state to state. In some states, utilities commissions are backwaters of bureaucratic sloth, while in others they are aggressive consumer advocates. The Colorado supreme court has held that the Colorado utilities commission lacked jurisdiction to hear complaints about prison phone rates. See: Powell v. Colo rado Public Utilities Commission 95 P.2d 608 (Colo. 1998). [ PLN , Nov. 1998) However, Colorado seems unique in holding that the utilities commission cannot hear complaints about prison and jail phone tariffs. Consumers unhappy with paying excessive phone rates for prison and jail calls should consider complaints to their state utilities commission as one means of addressing the problem.
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Related legal case
In Re Rates, Terms and Conditions
|Cite||admin. Case numbers 368, 378 and 379|