POLITICS
09/27/2013 03:30 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2013

FCC Releases Prison Phone Call Rules, Company Vows To File Lawsuit

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The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released its rules for a recently approved reduction in prison phone call rates.

Advocates had been holding their breath awaiting the official FCC order since the agency voted on Aug. 9 to create rate caps on the eye-popping fees third-party phone companies charge inmates to call families and friends.

The rules will now head to the White House Office of Management and Budget and will go into effect 90 days after OMB publishes them in the Federal Register -- but only if the prison phone companies are unable to stop them first.

Earlier this month Richard Smith, the CEO of Securus Technologies, the industry's second-largest player, told HuffPost that if the FCC's rules apply to contracts he has already made with prisons, his company will likely ask a judge to halt their implementation.

The new rules state that they "do not constitute a regulatory taking," a reference to the Constitution's prohibition on the government seizing private property without compensation.

Smith called the FCC order "crazy" and said his company would file a lawsuit, "likely in November 2013."

Teresa Ridgeway, a senior vice president at Global-Tel-Link, the largest prison phone call company, said the company was "reviewing" the order, "including Commissioner [Ajit] Pai's dissent."

Lee Petro, a telecommunications lawyer who since 2009 has served as a pro bono counsel for the petitioners seeking the FCC rule change, said Pai's dissent amounted to a virtual roadmap for a lawsuit. "I've been doing this for 16 years and this is probably the longest one I've ever seen," he said.

Petro expects the prison phone companies to appeal to the FCC and go to court for an injunction as well. But he believes the new rules will go into effect because of the "high threshold" for stopping rules once they have been thoroughly considered.

"We think the FCC established that it had the authority to [issue the order] and the need to do it as well," he said.

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