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Third-Party Calling Disconnects at Jail Net $1.25 Million Settlement; Customers Get Nothing

by David M. Reutter

When it comes to prison and jail telephone services, it’s all about how much money can be made without regard to the people who are bilked by for-profit phone companies. That is the sad conclusion that must be drawn from a recent decision by Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC).

After the PSC received a complaint in March 2004 claiming that calls from the collect-only phone system at the Miami-Dade Pretrial Detention Center (MDPDC) were being improperly disconnected, the agency opened an investigation.

That investigation, conducted between 2004 and 2007, determined that three-way calling detection software was causing prisoners’ phone calls to prematurely disconnect. As a result, prisoners would have to call back to complete their conversation. That caused customers to incur additional surcharges of $2.25 per local call and $1.75 per intrastate toll call.

The MDPDC’s phone service provider, TCG Public Communications, Inc., was previously a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T; it was acquired by Global Tel*Link Corporation in June 2005. TCG replaced the errant three-way calling detection software in March 2008, and responded to the PSC complaint by offering to establish a settlement fund of $175,000 to provide refunds for affected customers.

PSC staff recommended in September 2008 that TCG’s offer be refused, and that the company be ordered to show cause why it should not pay a $1.26 million fine. It was further recommended that TCG pay $6.29 million in refunds to customers who had been overcharged; however, that suggestion was later dropped. [See: PLN, April 2009, p.38].

The Commissioners directed PSC staff and TCG to negotiate a settlement. The company filed a revised settlement offer on May 27, 2009, proposing a payment of $1.25 million into Florida’s General Revenue Fund and an 18-month monitoring program for its phone operations at MDPDC.

The PSC approved the settlement at a hearing on August 18, 2009. While the state will benefit from the $1.25 million paid by TCG, the people who were overcharged due to improperly disconnected calls from prisoners at MDPDC – mostly prisoners’ family members – will get nothing. In Florida, that’s what they call public service.

Sources: Associated Press; Florida Public Service Commission, Docket No. 060614-TC

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