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FCC Calls On Governors To Cap Rates For Intrastate Phone Calls

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Phone calls for some imprisoned in Pennsylvania can cost up to $12 for a fifteen minute phone call. Allegheny County Jail charges about $3.50 for a 15 minute phone call.


On today's program: The FCC is calling on governors to regulate rates and fees for intrastate phone calls; LGBTQ candidates in the general election could encourage more people from underrepresented groups to run for office; and drive-in theaters are enjoying a resurgence in popularity during the pandemic. 

Advocates say prison phone calls are important for inmates, their families
(00:00 — 5:30)

The FCC is calling on governors to cap rates and fees for intrastate phone calls. The cost of a phone call for some imprisoned in Pennsylvania can cost up to $12 for a fifteen minute call. However, the FCC doesn’t have the jurisdiction to regulate the costs of the calls within states, which make up a majority of the calls.

The problem lies with county prisons, says John Hargreaves, the volunteer director of thePennsylvania Prison Society

“Each county, and each county prison, is a fiefdom unto themselves,” he says. Counties contract and negotiate with phone companies, and then, “the county inmates will pay what the phone company asks them to pay, with the county’s blessing.”

According to Hargreaves, there are typically fees on top of the per-minute cost of the phone call.

“What counties get out of it is they get this, what can be called a ‘kickback fee,’ where they’re paid up to $10,000, $20,000 a year, which they can then put in their general fund and help balance the county budget. Sometimes it goes into the inmate welfare fund which, then, presumably, is spent on the behalf of inmates,” he says, though not all counties participate in the kickbacks.

Allegheny County Jail charges about $3.50 for a 15-minute phone call, which Hargreaves says is about the average.

Access to phone calls is “crucial” for prisoners, says Hargreaves. “If phone calls are too expensive, or they don’t have phone privileges, then the families worry.”

LGBTQ candidates “don’t actually have win to inspire other people to run,” says Pitt professor
(5:32 — 13:41)

More than 1,000 openly LGBTQ people ran or are running for political office in 2020—a 41 percent increase since the 2018 midterm elections, according to anew study from the LGBTQ Victory Fund. The increase could change the direction of legislation from localities to the federal level, and encourage more people from under-represented groups to run for office.


In the 2018 midterm elections, Pennsylvania saw an increase in the number of women representatives, which led to policy changes around motherhood, breastfeeding, and work.Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, says electoral victories from LGBTQ candidates could have a similar impact on legislation around LGBTQ issues.

Part of the increase in LGBTQ candidates running for office can be attributed to rising acceptance and support for LGBTQ people and the community's rights. 

“We’ve literally never seen minds change as quickly as they have on issues of LGBTQ rights, and that’s largely down to both political and personal lobbying that members of the LGBTQ community have done,” she says. This could encourage more people to run.

“There have historically been a whole lot of people who couldn’t imagine themselves, say, running for congress or running for the president until they see someone who has a similar background to their own doing it.”

But success on election night is not necessary to inspire more LGBTQ candidates, Kanthak says. “You don’t actually have win to inspire other people to run.”

Drive-ins find new life during the pandemic
(13:43 — 18:00)

Drive-in theaters have found new life as the pandemic keeps people away from traditional movie theaters. 90.5 WESA’sKatie Blackley reports on how the declining industry is seeing new demand


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 


Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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