Wright Petitioners Urge FCC to Ensure that Contraband Phone Costs Not Passed to Inmates

March 10, 2017– The Wright petitioners, who more than 15 years ago asked the FCC to reduce high inmate calling service (ICS), rates, are now urging the FCC to ensure that a contraband cellphone item tentatively scheduled for consideration at the agency’s March 23 meeting doesn’t lead to costs for the deployment of equipment to detect contraband devices being passed onto non-offending inmates and their families.

In ex parte filings today in GN docket 13-111 reporting on meetings with Rachael Bender, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s acting wireless adviser, and Erin McGrath, wireless legal adviser to Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the Wright petitioners said they “do not have an opinion on the content of the technical rules as set forth in the draft Report and Order, but it is clear that the proposed rules do not include adequate protections to ensure that the cost of contraband cellphone detection systems will not be passed onto inmates and their families.

“Undersigned counsel also noted that the Report and Order lacked an adequate cost/benefit analysis. Of special note was the Commission’s apparent willingness to move forward even though ICS providers and correctional facilities failed to ‘provide any detailed or concrete cost estimates,’ forcing the Commission to ‘rely to some extent here on [its] general understanding and prediction of likely costs.’”

Talking points provided in the meetings also pointed to past proceedings where Messrs. Pai and O’Rielly pushed for cost-benefit analyses. The filing said that “should the Commission green-light the wide-scale implementation of costly contraband technologies, it is very likely that … the costs will be passed on to inmates and their families through increased rates and fees in states and local jails where caps on ICS rates and fees are not imposed.”

The filing “reiterated the need for the Commission to prohibit unjust and unreasonable rates, fees and practices by ICS providers that pass the cost of MAS  [managed access system] and other costly technologies, onto inmates and their families pursuant to its statutory authority under Sections 201 and 205 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. Undersigned counsel suggested that a simple certification could be added to FCC Form 608 requiring MAS providers to certify that the applicant’s costs associated with the installation and maintenance of the service for which the authorization is sought will not be charged in any way, through rates, fees or taxes, to Consumers, as defined in 47 C.F.R. § 64.6000 et seq.”

The filing continued, “In the absence of any cost estimates from the proponents of the proposed rules, the Commission must — at the very least — acknowledge in the Report and Order the information that has been previously supplied by the Wright Petitioners and other ICS advocates, and ensure that the adoption of the proposed rules does not lead to the whole-sale escalation of rates and fees on inmates and their families. This is especially true in light of the evidence provided by the Wright Petitioners that a significant portion of the flow of contraband into correctional institutions can be stopped by simply ensuring that employees of the correctional institutions do not, themselves, smuggle the contraband into their own institutions.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily