FCC Boss Ajit Pai Pretends To Care About A Prison Telco Monopoly Problem He Helped Protect

from the you're-not-helping dept

Over the last few decades, companies like Securus have managed to obtain a cozy, government-supported monopoly over prison phone and teleconferencing services. Like any monopoly, this has pretty traditionally resulted in not only sky high rates -- upwards of $14 per minute for phone calls -- but comically poor service as well. Because these folks are in prison, and as we all know everybody in prison is always guilty, drumming up enough sympathy to convert into political momentum has long proven difficult, so regulatory fecklessness has proven easy to come by.

Recent efforts to do something about it were scuttled by FCC boss Ajit Pai, whose former clients included Securus. Pai not only routinely opposed efforts by ex-FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to drive change in the prison telco sector, one of his very first acts as FCC boss was to pull the rugs out from underneath his own lawyers as they tried to support those reforms in court. The suddenly rudderless FCC ultimately and unsurprisingly lost due to a challenge by Global Tel*Link, which obviously wanted the status quo to remain intact. So now, while the FCC has the authority to cap interstate calling rates, the courts have declared it lacks the authority to regulate intrastate prison calling rates.

So it was odd to see Pai take to Twitter this week to first profess his breathless support for prison telco monopoly price gouging reform (clearly not true), and then state the fact his hands are tied in terms of actually doing something about it (something he's largely responsible for):

Lawyers who actually followed this saga from gestation were.... not impressed:

Responding to complaints, Pai yesterday sent a letter to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), proclaiming that this is "unfortunately a problem the FCC is powerless to address," and "calling for states to take action." The same states he's ironically been trying to argue lack the authority to protect consumers from telecom monopoly harm in other areas of telecom, like residential monopolies, net neutrality, and consumer privacy.

But however bad residential telecom is, prison telecom is worse. Securus and other such companies are part of a dangerously cozy and captive market, where prisons get paid upwards of $460 million annually in "concession fees" (read: kickbacks) to score exclusive, lucrative prison contracts. In this comically absurd environment, the service pricing and quality are just about what you'd expect. Government oversight of these businesses has been virtually non-existent, despite accusations that these companies have allowed some law enforcement to monitor what should be privileged attorney client communications and that they have been embroiled in location data scandals.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, fcc, legal authority, monopoly, prison calls
Companies: securus


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  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 24 Jul 2020 @ 6:44am

    I want to, but my hands are tied!

    So it was odd to see Pai take to Twitter this week to first profess his breathless support for prison telco monopoly price gouging reform (clearly not true), and then state the fact his hands are tied in terms of actually doing something about it (something he's largely responsible for):

    This is standard operating procedure all aspects of politics, whether spoken loudly, quietly, or just implied. They teach it in Political Theater 101.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 24 Jul 2020 @ 10:38am

    Scandals come and go and the payola rolls on.

    Now if actual heads started rolling they might take notice and unlike the french where those responsible for the problems ran away, there really isn't anywhere to run away to today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 24 Jul 2020 @ 1:14pm

    I wold really like to know,,

    Dear Mr. Pai.
    I would love to see your, and your families Internet, cellphone, and cable bills.

    Please reply.
    I will also check with your local services as to the amounts for verification.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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