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Deregulation of Telephone Rates in Florida Eliminates Caps on Prisoner Rates

To comply with Florida law, the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) amended its rules to remove its jurisdiction in rates of telephone services. For prisoners and their loved ones, that removes what little oversight existed on the rates charged for prisoner collect calls.

The Consumer Choice and Protection Act, which became effective July 1, 2009, amended Section 364.3376 Florida Statutes. That Act eliminated the PSC’s authority to establish maximum rates for all providers of operator services within the state. In removing the statute’s reference to tariffs, it replaced that language with “schedules or published schedules.” The Act now requires operators to charge rates and bill services in accord with the rates in their published schedules.

In comments on the rule amendment proposal, AT&T Florida, Embarq Florida, Evercom Systems, T-Netix Telecommunications Services, Global Tel*Link, Network Communications International, ITI Inmate Telephone Services, and Public Communications Services applauded the change; as it has been something they have been lobbying to obtain for years.

Florida Citizens for the Rehabilitation of Errants and Pay Tel Communications argued that prisoner telephone services are not operator services and from a consumer perspective, are monopolistic. The phone companies argued the bid process utilized by prisons to select service providers is highly competitive.

The PSC concluded the Act was intended by the Legislature to deregulate rates for operator service by removing rate caps and this would include prisoner telephone services.

Currently, Florida prisoners’ telephone service is provided by Securus Technologies. It is charging around $1.82 per call for fifteen minutes to anywhere in the nation. Previous phone contracts for those services charged around $5 for in-state calls and up to $26 for out-of-state calls. Should prison officials decide to receive a higher rate of return, nothing but published rates would inhibit raising prisoner call rates, as those can be set without oversight or caps.

In making the rule change, the PSC recognized customers can be “adversely affected if their present operator service provider raises its rates and its customers to not shop around for more competitively priced operator service rates.” That is not an option available to prisoners. See: Florida Public Service Commission, Docket No. 060476-TL, memorandum September 24, 2009.

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Related legal case

Florida Public Service Commission, Docket No. 060476-TL