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HRDC comment to FCC re low phone rates at Davidson County, TN jail - July 2016

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Human Rights Defense Center

July 15, 2016

Submitted Online Only

The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St. S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

Ex Parte Submission
Global Tel*Link ICS Contract and Amendment with the Metropolitan
Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro).
WC Docket 12-375

Dear Chairman Wheeler:
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) respectfully submits this ex parte
presentation on WC Docket 12-375 regarding the contrary positions between what prison
telecom industry leader Global Tel*Link (GTL) says and what it actually does.
This Docket is replete with filings by Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers, as well as
the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and its member sheriffs, alleging high costs for the
provision of prison and jail telephone services; the high (but unsubstantiated) costs incurred by
correctional facilities to provide phone services; and threats to discontinue phone services unless
sheriffs’ departments continue to receive ICS commission kickbacks.
GTL appealed the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC or the Commission)
Order capping prepaid/debit ICS rates at $0.11/min. for federal and state prisons, and capping
debit/prepaid rates for jails at $0.14/min. to $0.22/min. based on population level. 2 In an initial
motion filed in the appeal, GTL represented that “The nature of these inmate calling services
(‘ICS’) makes them more costly to provide than ordinary toll service.” 3 GTL goes on to say


Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released November 5, 2015.
U.S. District Court of Appeals DC Circuit, Case No. 15-1461, filed January 27, 2016.
3 at 7.

P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-360-2523 Fax: 866-735-7136

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that the FCC has ignored the realities of the ICS market and “threatened ICS providers with
significant losses.” 4 Of course it is the ICS providers that have created the very “market” they
now complain about, by giving kickbacks to their government collaborators in exchange for
monopoly contracts.
However, a contract amendment negotiated between the Metropolitan Government of
Nashville and Davidson County (Metro) and GTL, which became effective June 20, 2016,
indicates that this is simply not the case. (Attachment 1)
This amendment sets ICS rates for all intrastate collect, debit and prepaid/AdvancePay
calls at $0.05/min., with ancillary fees capped at the amounts set forth in the FCC’s Order. Id.
HRDC has long-advocated for a rate of $0.05/min., and this is evidence of the ability of both ICS
providers and detention facilities – including jails – to provide phone services at that rate. The
amendment also eliminates kickbacks, 5 including for video visitation services, which lowered
the cost for video visitation from $14.95 for a 20-minute visit (effectively $0.75/min.) in the
original contract (Attachment 2) to $10.00 for a 25-minute visit ($0.40/min.).
As noted by Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall in a press release:
The vast majority of inmates in our jails – and jails across the country –
are in pretrial status. They have not been found guilty of any crime;
therefore, they should have access to the privilege of calling loved ones
regardless of their economic status.
(Attachment 3)
This position was confirmed by HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann, who added
that abandoning the commission-based model “will go a long way towards ensuring fair and
affordable phone rates so those in jail can more easily communicate with their family members
and children.” (Attachment 4)
Metro did the right thing for its prisoners and community by voluntarily reducing rates
far below the FCC’s rate caps and eliminating kickbacks from its contract with GTL; it is well
documented in this record that kickbacks and lack of competition are the primary reasons for the
artificially high phone rates that plague the ICS industry. It is crystal clear that ICS providers can
charge much lower rates and remain profitable absent kickbacks, and it should be noted that GTL
contracted with Metro at a rate of $0.05/min., especially in light of the Fact Sheet released by the
FCC yesterday concerning a proposal to increase the rate caps for both prisons and jails. 6
Metro’s jail system consists of the Criminal Justice Center with 788 beds; the Hill
Detention Center with 535 beds and CDC-male with 768 beds. The FCC capped phone rates for
a facility of this combined size at $0.14/min. in its Order, almost three times Metro’s new rate.


Under the original contract (Attachment 2), Metro received a 95% commission kickback on ICS revenue with
intrastate calls rated at $0.13/min. for collect and debit calls and $0.14/min. for prepaid calls.
FACT SHEET: Providing Affordable, Sustainable Inmate Calling Services; issued by the Federal Communications
Commission on July 14, 2016.

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Revised rate caps under consideration that will be voted on by the Commission on August 4,
2016 would increase the maximum phone rate for a facility of this size to $0.19/min. – just under
four times the rate currently in effect at Metro jails. Of course, GTL would not have entered into
a contract to provide phone service at $.05/min. with no kickbacks if it could not make a profit. 7
HRDC acknowledges the Commission’s efforts to ensure that all parties to ICS services
are treated in a fair and reasonable manner. However, given the fact that the NSA and its
member sheriffs have produced almost no evidence of actual “costs” incurred to provide ICS, we
call on the FCC to require the submission of true cost data by corrections agencies so any “addon” rates to cover costs do just that: cover actual costs. The government agencies that run this
country’s detention facilities should not be allowed to continue to profit off prisoners and their
families, who are among this nation’s poorest consumers. As HRDC has noted in previous filings
on this Docket, there is no correlation between the kickbacks these agencies receive and the cost
of providing telephone services to prisoners. Instead, ICS kickbacks are used to buy everything
from food for prisoners and squad cars for deputies to computer upgrades ... and sometimes
commission kickbacks simply go to the state or county’s general fund.
HRDC again calls on the Commission to require all ICS providers to post their contracts
(with rate and fee information), kickback data and all other payments made for these exclusive
contracts on their company websites within 30 days of contract execution, and that such records
be kept up to date with easy access to effective dates. We also ask that ICS providers be required
to retain these documents online for at least ten years. The reality remains that no one has the
resources to monitor the ICS contracts for all of the nation’s prisons and jails nor the kickbacks
paid to secure those contracts. This is a case where both the NSA and ICS providers are telling
the courts and the FCC one thing while knowing they are doing another. Having all the contract,
rate, fee and kickback data publicly posted on their websites will ensure both transparency and
the ability of the public – as well as courts and regulatory agencies – to determine the actual
reality behind ICS contracts. The secrecy and lack of transparency that permeates every aspect
of the ICS industry is a critical component that has allowed the current situation of consumer
exploitation to both exist and persist for so long.
Thank you for your time and attention in this regard.


Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC


Intrastate rates at Metro jails are set at $.05/min.; interstate rates are set at the $.25/min. (collect) and $.21/min.
(debit/prepaid) caps established by the FCC’s 2013 Order.

Davidson County sheriff to cut inmate phone
call charges
Dave Boucher, 10:31 a.m. CDT July 11, 2016

(Photo: Samuel M. Simpkins / File / The Tennessean)
In a move aimed at reducing the financial burden of jail on inmates and their families, the
Davidson County Sheriff's Office plans to cut charges for all inmate phone calls from 13 cents to
5 cents per minute.
Sheriff Daron Hall is set to announce the change Monday, a decision that comes amid an
ongoing national dialogue about the costs of inmate phone calls and who ultimately gets the
"The need for an inmate to communicate with family members while incarcerated is critical.
Research proves a strong support system improves the likelihood of success upon release. It is
important to me we do all we can to ensure those relationships continue and relieve some of the
stress and burden placed on family members," Hall said in an email sent Friday and obtained by
The Tennessean.

Hall said the change puts Davidson County's rates for local and intrastate calls at one of the
lowest in the nation.
Before the change, it cost roughly 13 cents per minute for a call, said spokeswoman Karla West.
There will still be some fees for the calls, but they have been reduced substantially. For a 10minute local call, to somewhere such as Dickson or another local area, the fee drops from $1.65
to 50 cents. For a 10-minute regional call, to places such as Memphis or Knoxville, the fee drops
from $8.41 to 50 cents, West said.
Traditionally, private companies operate the phone systems at local jails and prisons. Through
that system, inmates — or, in most cases, their families — end up paying rates that include
commissions that go to both the private company and the incarcerating institution.
In his email, Hall notes the new phone contract does away with all previous commissions.
Alex Friedmann, a former inmate who's managing editor for a prison newsletter and an advocate
for inmates, and Jeannie Alexander, a former prison chaplain who runs a inmate advocacy
organization, both applauded Hall's decision to cut the phone rates.
"Sheriff Daron Hall is to be commended for lowering the phone rates for people held in
Nashville jails — rates that are typically paid by prisoners' family members and not by the
prisoners themselves, most of whom are awaiting trial and thus presumed to be innocent until
proven guilty," Friedmann said in a statement.
"Doing away with the commission-based model will go a long way towards ensuring fair and
affordable phone rates so those in jail can more easily communicate with their family members
and children."
The Federal Communications Commission issued a ruling in October that capped the costs of
phone calls, noting that some calls at facilities across the country ended up "ballooning to $14
per minute once inside prison walls." The new ruling limits charges for jails the size of
Nashville's to 14 cents per minute.
The cap for calls from prisons is 11 cents per minute. The Tennessee Department of Correction
recently changed its rate to 7 cents per minute. However, Friedmann said the new rate actually
makes longer calls more expensive than they used to be.