Of the long distance carriers that have promoted the
use of dial-around calling, perhaps the most well-known
is Telecom*USA's 10-10-321 program.
Now Telecom*USA has introduced a new program using
the 10-10-220 carrier access code.
Oh, by the way, Telecom*USA is just another name for MCI.
This program promises customers that they will save 50%
on calls over 20 minutes, and that they will save compared
to AT&T on every call.
Is it true?
Depending on time and distance, AT&T's basic rates vary
from 16¢ to 32¢ per minute, so calls over 20 minutes
cost between 8¢ and 16¢ per minute.
But how often do users of the 10-10-321 service actually make
calls of at least 20 minutes?
And how often do they make calls between 11 and 19 minutes,
which actually cost more than 20-minute calls?
Only MCI knows for sure.
The savings on calls under 20 minutes compared to AT&T's
basic rate: one cent!
This program offers customers the opportunity to make calls
up to 20 minute for 99¢... additional minutes are
charged at 10¢ per minute.
While this promises the possibility of making calls for as low
as 5¢ per minute, callers will almost surely pay more.
For instance, if you happen to reach an answering machine, your
effective rate is 99¢ per minute.
Lies, Deception, and Illegal Lotteries
That's the Cagey Consumer's opinion about these programs...
lies... to promise people they will save on every
call compared to AT&T, a claim based on a 1¢ savings.
A review of laws against false advertising will reveal that
a promised "price reduction" cannot be legally advertised as
such if it is below a the threshhold of what a reasonable
person would consider as possibly influencing a buying decision.
deception... to lead people to believe that these
rates will save people money over alternatives, when in
fact the "odds" of savings money with these programs are minimal
for most customers.
illegal lottery... because the rates charged for calls
are arbitrary and capricious... and customers can't anticipate
whether they will talk for 1 minute, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes
when they place a call.
Thus it is effectively a matter of chance what their effective
per minute rate will be.
In the absence of a reasonable basis for the price of the
call, this is tantamount to a lottery.
Unless MCI is authorized to operate its phone service as
a lottery, the Attorney Generals of each state should be
prosecuting MCI under the anti-gambling statutes.