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FCC Quashes Company's Blockage of Discounted Prisoner Call Plans

Securus Technologies, Inc.'s petition to block discounted prisoner calling plans, such as the widely-used "Cons Call Home" program, was denied by the Wireline Competition Bureau in a hearing before the Federal Communications Commission. Securus was attempting to utilize correctional rules devised to prevent incarcerated individuals from calling unauthorized numbers to  prevent bypassing their significantly more expensive and monopolistic telephone network sold to correctional institutions in return for a share of the profit.

According to the Commission's findings, "We deny the Petition because we conclude that the precedent cited by Securus does not authorize the call blocking practice described in the Petition. As the Commission has previously found, call blocking is largely antithetical to the fundamental goal of ubiquity and reliability of the telecommunications network. We find that this situation is no exception. This Declaratory Ruling and Order furthers the Commission’s goals of ensuring the integrity and reliability of telecommunications networks."

In reaching its decision in September 2013, the FCC recognized that inmate calling services (ICS) are generally confined to a single provider creating opportunities for abuse and profiteering at the expense of the incarcerated and their families. The temptation of correctional institutions and law-enforcement organizations to profit at the expense of prisoners is generally too difficult to restrict, absent regulatory oversight.  

Internet voice-over protocols , or VOIPs, arose because of the anti-competitive rates charged by correctional facilities which were always higher than free-market pay phone rates.  With a VOIP, private companies unaffiliated with jails or prisons were able to offer their prisoner-customers the option of dialing local number and pay a lower rate for their outgoing calls from a prison-approved calling list.

As the Commission explained, "In order to safeguard the integrity of the national telecommunications network, the Commission has largely prohibited call blocking ... Commission precedent provides that no carriers ... may block, choke, reduce or restrict [telecommunications] traffic in any way ... the Commission made clear that the broad prohibition on call blocking applies to VoIP calls.... The Commission has allowed call blocking only under rare and limited circumstances."

Therefore, "we conclude that Securus has identified no exception to Commission precedent that would permit it to block calls from inmates to subscribers of call routing services."


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