The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Briefing.
ICS Rate Caps
At its October 22, 2015, Open Meeting, the FCC voted to adopt new caps on interstate and intrastate inmate calling services (ICS), including ancillary fees. The Order adopted by the FCC lowers the cap to 11 cents per minute for all local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons, while providing tiered rates for jails to account for the higher costs of serving jails and smaller institutions. TMI Briefing Service subscribers see Briefing dated 10/22/15. The text of the order and the Commissioners’ statements (both approving and dissenting) have not been released as of this writing. However, the News Release issued after the meeting and the discussion at the meeting sheds additional light on a few other areas, including the payment of site commissions, ongoing reporting, and the issues to be addressed in the Third Notice of Proposed rulemaking. A detailed, follow-up Briefing will be released after the text of the Order is available.
The FCC fined six companies a combined $30 million for deceptively marketing prepaid calling cards. The companies falsely advertised that their low-cost prepaid calling cards could allow consumers far more calling minutes than were in fact being sold. The companies targeted advertising to immigrant consumers promising that the prepaid calling cards, which cost only a few dollars, could be used for hundreds or thousands of minutes in international phone calls. In fact, for that price, the consumers would be able to use only a fraction of the promised minutes due to the companies’ assessment of multiple fees and surcharges that were not clearly and conspicuously disclosed to consumers. In the course of its investigation, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau reviewed marketing materials and disclosures contained on multiple prepaid calling cards and related advertising posters from the companies. Each company was fined $5 million for its deceptive marketing. (A Notice of Apparent Liability for deceptive practices was issued to each company in 2011 or 2012.)
The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has scheduled a hearing for October 28, 2015 entitled, “Breaking Down Barriers to Broadband Infrastructure Deployment.” With ever-increasing demand for broadband Internet access, whether fixed or mobile, the subcommittee will review proposals to break down barriers preventing consumer access to this vital resource. The proposals would streamline processes for getting access to federal lands and utility poles, require smart dig-once policies that take advantage of existing roadwork to deploy fiber conduit, and examine the bureaucracy that impedes private sector investment in broadband.
PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown will join representatives from numerous agencies, utilities, and other organizations for an energy forum on Saturday, October 24, 2015, at the Harrisburg Mall. The energy forum runs from 12 Noon to 3:00 p.m. It will provide mid-state residents with an opportunity to learn more about energy conservation and shopping for utility services. The forum will also include easy Do It Yourself projects aimed at helping save money on home heating bills. Click here for more details.