March 3, 2017–The president of CellAntenna Corp., which manufactures equipment to tackle the problem of contraband wireless devices in correctional facilities, said today that a draft item tentatively scheduled for consideration at the FCC’s March 23 meeting (TRDaily, March 2) won’t get to the heart of the problem: the reluctance of facilities to deploy equipment due to funding shortages. Correctional facilities “do not want to send the data to the carriers,” CellAntenna President Howard Melamed told TRDaily, referring to data on contraband phones detected where equipment is in operation. “That is because they know that having done so, and successfully disconnecting the phones, they would have no excuse and no one to blame but themselves for not putting this system in every prison. They in effect would need to budget it and execute. They have no money. Most DOC’s [departments of corrections] are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to budgets at the state level.”
At one time, Mr. Melamed noted, he was very critical of wireless carriers and CTIA, arguing that they were not interested in disconnecting contraband cellphones in jails and prisons because of the revenues from them. “I was completely wrong. It is not the carriers that are the problem – nor the CTIA,” he said. “It is the people running the prisons that simply do not want to pay the price needed or not be bothered with another process that they need to manage to rid the prison in this country of cell phones.”
He said his company has had international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI)-catching technology in one Florida prison for more than three years “and got the major carriers to agree on a procedure to disconnect the phone, without the need of the FCC to intervene. We obtained an STA originally from the FCC (it was easy) and got the carriers to provide licensing agreements or letters of approval.”
More than 700 contraband phones were detected in more than 3 ½ years in the prison of more than 2,100 inmates. But no phone data was ever sent in so carriers could disconnect them, he said.
Eric Schultz, director-government & public affairs for the American Correctional Association, which represents correctional facilities, declined to comment today on the FCC’s draft item and Mr. Melamed’s comments. But prison and jail authorities have often complained that they don’t have the resources for expensive equipment to detect contraband wireless devices.
Mr. Melamed said that even less funding is available since the FCC reformed some of its inmate calling service rules (ICS) to bring down the cost of calls for inmates, although he said corrections officials are pressing ICS providers to pay for managed access systems (MAS).
Also today, CTIA commented on the FCC’s draft report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking. “CTIA’s members have long supported the corrections community in the fight against contraband phones and work closely with them to implement solutions that capture illegal calls while not impacting legitimate subscribers,” said Scott Bergmann, vice president-regulatory affairs for the trade group. “CTIA looks forward to working with Chairman Pai and Commissioners to evaluate solutions that accomplish these goals.”
The report and order tentatively scheduled for consideration at the March 23 meeting would streamline the FCC’s process to allow contraband interdiction system (CIS) companies to receive authorization more quickly. It also would require wireless carriers to cooperate with facilities and CIS operators, which must secure arrangements with each carrier to deploy technology in a facility. Under the order, the FCC would designate an ombudsperson who would serve as the single point of contact for CIS operators and wireless carriers.
In the further notice, the FCC would seek comment on whether it should require carriers to disable contraband devices in correctional facilities and, if so, how the process would work. The Commission also would solicit opinions on whether carriers should identify and disable those devices themselves and whether other technological solutions are feasible to tackle the problem. “In this Order, we adopt rules to facilitate the deployment of CISs by streamlining the Commission’s processes governing STA requests and spectrum leasing arrangements entered into exclusively to combat the use of unauthorized wireless devices in correctional facilities,” according to the item. “Specifically, as explained below, we take action today so that qualifying spectrum leasing applications or notifications for CISs will be subject to immediate processing and disposition; parties will not have to separately file amendments to become PMRS (or CMRS); and the process for obtaining STA for these systems will be streamlined. Although we either decline to adopt, or seek further comment on, certain proposals, as explained below, we believe that the changes adopted in today’s Order will have a real and tangible impact. We believe the revised rules are in the public interest and strike the appropriate balance among the need to minimize regulatory barriers to CIS deployment, maintain an effective spectrum leasing review process, and avoid service disruption to wireless devices outside of correctional facilities.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org