Securus Technologies is committed to serious regulatory reform that will make Inmate Telecommunications Services (ITS) more affordable, more accessible, and more accountable to the incarcerated consumers who rely on these services to stay connected with family and friends.
On a federal level we have embraced the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) interim rulemaking on this topic, which isn’t perfect but is based on a thoughtful, data-driven approach. Rather than fight these new rules, we are committed to working with the FCC to further refine and improve them.
On a state level we regretfully must oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) proposed rulemaking. Ignoring the recommendations of its own staff, the commission has offered an arbitrary proposal that would in fact harm the interests of the incarcerated consumers it is ostensibly designed to protect.
Gov. Gavin Newsom understands the importance of thoughtful reform. Last year, when vetoing legislation that would make phone calls free for incarcerated individuals, he cautioned about the “unintended consequence of reducing important rehabilitative and educational programming for individuals in custody.”
It is that common-sense principle that should form the bedrock of any regulatory framework – we must maintain support for the needs of the incarcerated community and the individuals charged with maintaining safety in correctional facilities.
The CPUC’s interim rule, issued last week, neither meets those standards nor accounts for the real costs associated with providing high quality services. Prior to issuance, we strongly encouraged the commission to follow its own staff’s recommendation: interim adoption of the FCC’s well-vetted, data-driven interim rate plan followed by a more detailed, California-specific review process to come up with a data-driven plan for state and local institutions. This approach would have provided immediate relief to consumers, balanced with sustainable investment that would allow counties and service providers to continue to innovate with products and services benefiting incarcerated consumers. Securus pledged to support that approach wholeheartedly.
It is important to consider the implications of rate caps and changes to financing mechanisms. Nationally, roughly one-third of the costs paid by consumers flows back to correctional agencies in the form of site commissions, which fund rehabilitative services, educational programming, and other needs not covered by correctional budgets. In California it is twice that, with nearly two-thirds of the costs paid by consumers taking the form of site commissions with a total average consumer charge of $0.25 per minute.
In supporting the FCC’s federal rulemaking, Securus called for a measured approach to phasing out commissions. Without such an approach, prisons and jails will likely cut services in order to stay on budget.
Inexplicably, CPUC commissioners chose to disregard their staff’s recommendation, ignoring both the FCC’s work and the previous admonitions of Gov. Newsom. Instead, they announced an arbitrary calculation that will result not only in a reduction in price, but in many institutions a reduction in service because the arbitrary pricing is below the cost of providing the basic service even with commissions removed. This will have meaningful unintended consequences and drain resources needed to cover real costs, to fuel innovation, and to supplement the funding needed by agencies.
When Securus Technologies announced a multi-year corporate transformation agenda in January 2020, we committed to driving real change in the correctional industry. Access to affordable, modern technological tools improves the lives of America’s incarcerated community by providing connections to loved ones, advanced educational programming, and resources that set people up for success after their release. Unfortunately, for far too many, these tools were either unavailable or unaffordable.
That’s what we set out to change. I am proud of the progress we’ve made so far: we have reduced the average price of our calls by more than 30% and the average cost of our calls to less than $0.15/minute, integrated commission-free and agency-paid options for telephone calls, and renegotiated contracts with over 100 correctional agencies to adjust outlier call rates. Throughout this effort, we have advanced a responsible, data-driven process that allows for investment in technological innovation and fulfils our public safety responsibility to correctional agencies.
We believe that same approach is the best way to develop a regulatory framework for the industry: it should be rooted in facts, data, and analysis. This requires an honest accounting of the true costs of safely providing these communications tools, and the ways in which revenues are currently shared between service providers and government agencies. To be done right, this type of effort requires all parties to come to the table with a willingness to share insights and data; we are eager to participate in that work.
We support an inclusive, collaborative approach that brings as many voices and experts to the table as possible. That is not what occurred here in California, and the CPUC published a rule that we cannot support. For the reasons stated above, we urge the CPUC to reverse course and adopt the interim rate caps established under the FCC’s data driven process, then engage all stakeholders in a fulsome effort to reduce call rates without threatening services to the incarcerated or putting public safety at risk. We will be filing a formal appeal with the CPUC with the sincere hope that we will advance a more collaborative approach moving forward.
We share the CPUC’s goals of making correctional communications as affordable, accessible, and available as possible. That is why we are so disappointed by this decision – but it gives us hope that, by working together in the future, we can achieve a more just California that works for everyone.
President and CEO
Aventiv Technologies, Parent Company of Securus Technologies