For over ten years a coalition of organizations and individuals has been asking the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) to lower the cost of calling prison, jail or detention centers. Our network, the Media Action Grassroots Network was at the forefront of the fight through our work in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. Together along with our allies last August we finally won! The FCC set new lower rates which take effect February 2014.
New Rate Caps
On February 11, 2014, the new rate caps adopted by the Federal Communications Commission for telephone calls to people in prison, jail or detention take effect. The FCC caps for interstate calls (calls between two different states) are:
- 25 cents per minute for collect calls and
- 21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls
The FCC also capped the total cost of a call between two states, including per-call charges. Those caps are:
- $3.75 for a 15-minute collect call and
- $3.15 for a 15-minute debit or prepaid calls
For calls after February 11, 2014, a charge over these limits is in violation of federal rules.
Need more help understanding the new rules? See our Frequently Asked Questions and How to File a Complaint at the FCC for Prison Phone Call Charges that are Too High.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I have been charged a rate over 25 cents for collect calls or 21 cents for debit or prepaid calls between two different states, what should I do?
A: First, you should contact the telephone company and attempt to resolve the problem. Tell the company that the Federal Communications Commission has capped interstate calls (calls between states) and that you believe the charge to be too high. Keep records of your telephone bills and your conversations with the telephone company.
Q: I attempted to get a refund from the phone company, but they would not give me a refund, now what?
A: If the phone company won’t solve the problem, file a complaint at the FCC. Use the attached guide to help you to file a complaint. You can get help by calling the FCC at 1-888-225-5322. The FCC will send your complaint to the telephone company and require them to respond to you. The FCC should follow up with you to be sure you are satisfied with the outcome.
Q: I live in the same state as the person in prison who I am calling–can I be charged more than 21 cents or 25 cents per minute for a call?
A: Maybe. Some states have adopted limits on the cost of phone calls, but the new rules adopted by the FCC do not cap the cost of a call between two people in the same state. Click here to find your state regulator. See below to learn more about efforts to make more changes to lower prison phone bills.
Q: I have been fighting outrageous calls for years. I have a large phone bill from before 2014 that I am fighting. Can the new rules help me?
A: No. The new rules only apply to telephone calls that occur after February 11, 2014.
Q: I am being charged less than 21 cents per minute for a call between states, but I am also being charged $2.00 for each call. Can I get a refund? What should I do?
A: Yes. The cap for a 15 minute collect call is $3.75 and for a 15-minute debit or prepaid call is $3.15. The cap applies even if your telephone call was not exactly 15 minutes. To find out whether the price is over the cap, figure out the cost of a 15-minute call. For example, if you are charged 19 cents per minute and $2.00 per call, a 15-minute call would cost $4.85, over the cap. You should ask the company for a refund or file a complaint at the FCC if the company won’t refund your money, even if your call was for only 5 minutes.
Q: I am being charged very high fees to add money to a prepaid account, or to close an account, or for an inactive account. Can the new rules help me?
A: At this time, a court ruling has stopped the FCC from addressing this kind of fee. Keep your records: you can also try to file a complaint. It is possible that at a future time the FCC may be able to assist you.
Q: I heard that the prison phone companies blocked the new rules in court.
A: Several companies did challenge the new rules in court. The court blocked some of the new rules, but it left the caps of 25 cents per minute for collect calls and 21 cents per minute for debit or prepaid calls. Charges over those caps are prohibited after February 11, 2014.
Q: These new rules sound great, but they don’t help me. What can I do?
A: The campaign for phone justice is not over. The following organizations are working to reform high rates at prisons, jails, and detention centers at the FCC and in various states, cities and counties around the country. You can also contact your local elected officials, state representatives or members of Congress to ask them to help.
Organizations working to end predatory prison phone rates:
Campaign for Prison Phone Justice
United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry
Citizens United to Reform Errants, Campaign to Promote Equitable Telephone Charges
How to File a Complaint at the FCC for Prison Phone Call Charges that are Too High
If you have been charged too much for a phone call to a prison, you may want to file a complaint. If your call was between two states – for example, you live in Oklahoma and you are receiving calls from Texas—you can complain to the Federal Communications Commission.
If you have a complaint about in-state calls—for example if you live in Texas and you are receiving calls from inside Texas—you need to complain to the state where you are making and receiving calls. Click here to find your state regulator.
The FCC has a guide in English and in Spanish about informal complaints:
Consumer Guide to Informal Complaints
Guía para el Consumidor: Presentación de una queja informal
To file a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission about prison phone rates, you can either telephone the FCC or you can file a complaint online. To telephone the FCC, call 1-888-225-5322. The complaint form can be completed online or on paper. You can obtain copies of the form by calling the FCC.
To file your complaint, you will need:
- your telephone number,
- the name of the phone company,
- your account number,
- the amount you believe you were overcharged.
You can attach copies of your telephone bill to the complaint, but that is not required.
You can reach the FCC via TTY for people with disabilities: 1-888-835-5322
You can use the FCC’s toll-free fax number to send documents or a complaint: 1-866-418-0232
FAQ courtesy of OC Inc. United Church of Christ, Public Knowledge and the Media Action Grassroots Network.