Cagey Consumer

Maryland Consumer Advocate Warns Public About PSC


The Maryland Office of People's Counsel acts as a consumer advocate to represent the residents of the state of Maryland in actions before the state Public Service Commission (PSC). On May 2, 1997, the Office of People's Counsel issued a warning to the public regarding additional charges that the PSC approved for several long distance carriers:
ATTENTION LONG-DISTANCE CUSTOMERS: HIDDEN CHARGES IN SOME LONG-DISTANCE BILLS!
You may be subjected to surcharges ranging from eighty cents to one dollar per call if you "dial around" your presubscribed long distance carrier via a "10XXX" carrier identification code. The MD PSC has approved a number of requests for these surcharges recently; however, the PSC has also decided that companies who impose the surcharge need not identify the surcharge as a separate line item. For example, if your home phone is presubscribed to AT&T for long distance service and you use another carrier's access code to make the call (perhaps Sprint's code), that carrier (Sprint in this instance) can charge you eighty cents in addition to the cost of the call. When you receive your bill, nothing informs you that the company has imposed the surcharge. The cost of the call is just higher than it ordinarily would be.
Contact Terri Czarski at the Office of People's Counsel (410-767-8150) if you have questions about this practice.
Although similar tariff changes were approved by the FCC and by state regulatory agencies nationwide, the rationale for approval of such changes was never explained to the public.

Are Dial-Around Surcharges Justified?

While some long distance companies impose surcharges for using dial-around codes, other companies actively solicit such business, and promise lower rates as well. Although representatives from some long distance companies that Cagey Consumer has contacted have claimed that the surcharges are necessary to cover higher billing costs associated with "casual callers", other long distance companies actively solicit such business, and promise lower rates at the same time.

A more credible explanation is that long distance companies have imposed these surcharges] to discourage customers from using multiple long distance companies during the same billing period, to take advantage of the most competitive rates available on each call.


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