Talk Less and Pay More
Remember the long-distance phone wars of the early 1990s? When your phone rang nearly every day with an offer from MCI, Sprint or AT&T to get you to switch carriers?
All that competition was supposed to bring down phone rates. But consumer advocacy group Teletruth says if you believe that, you're mistaken.
Teletruth's analysis of phone rates shows that since 2000 long-distance charges for AT&T have gone up 237 percent for so-called "low-volume users" -- people who make up to 15 minutes of long distance calls a month. About 30 percent of American customers qualify as low-volume; many of them are seniors living on fixed incomes. As a result, Teletruth estimated that at least 10 to 15 million elderly and other low-volume users, and another 10 to 15 million customers have been shortchanged by phone companies.
Long-distance carriers have done this by imposing all kinds of fees on low-volume callers to make up for the fact that those folks aren't burning up the long-distance phone lines. The fees come with lovely names such as a "minimum usage fee," "a plan fee," "a cost recovery fee," "an in-state connection fee," and "a single bill fee."
Teletruth also goes after AT&T for not sticking to a promise made in 2000 to the Federal Communication Commission to lower long-distance rates by removing plan fees and minimums and to lower the basic service rate to 19 cents per minute. The basic rate is now 120 percent higher at 42 cents.
I found the report as dismaying as the next consumer. But I have to say, I also thought the focus on long-distance rates sort of quaint. I mean, I almost long for the days when all I paid for was local and long-distance phone service. Now, my household's telecom costs per month include local, long distance, high-speed cable modem and cellphone services. And I don't even subscribe to a data plan for my phone.
With all those bills to read through, it's no wonder people don't catch all the fees that get tacked on.
If you could charge companies fees the way they charge us, what would you charge them for?
I vote for a "sanity recovery fee" and a "minimum aggravation fee."
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