Cagey Consumer[13k]

For Immediate Release July 6, 1998
For more information, contact Eli Mantel, +1 650-493-7228

Consumer Advice Columnist Leads Readers Astray

Little Help Offered to Confused Consumers

In a syndicated column dated July 5, 1998, columnist Jane Bryant Quinn advised her readers of various telephone charges they may run into, some of which are new this year after being mandated by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, while others, such as surcharges for collect calls, have been around for many years.

Quinn also offered a warning that the proposed "detariffing" of long distance rates would make it harder for organizations such as the Telecommunication Research & Action Center (TRAC) to perform their rate comparison service, while failing to mention that, according to certain consumer advocates, the detariffing of such rates will protect consumers from being responsible for paying rates that they never agreed to. This can happen today, because long distance companies can legally meet "notice" requirements by publishing rate changes in the newspaper.

According to Eli Mantel, editor of the Cagey Consumer web site, Quinn flubbed it when she suggested that consumers need to call on weekends to get low rates. While it's true that MCI offers a very low rate for interstate calls made on Sunday, consumers who select a rate plan based solely on that feature may find they would be better off with a calling plan that offers a competitive rate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of these plans have no monthly fee, while others have monthly fees as low as one dollar.

Customers who don't make a lot of long distance calls should get on a rate plan with no monthly fees, such as the 15¢ a minute plans offered by AT&T and Sprint.

Customers who spend more time making long distance calls will want to get a rate plan offering rates of 10¢ a minute or less. For instance, both AT&T and Sprint offer offer this rate 24 hours a day for a $4.95 monthly fee. In Sprint's version of this plan, the fee is waived in months charges exceed $30.

AT&T and MCI offer an "online" rate to those customers who are willing to receive their bills on the Internet. In this case, the per-minute rate is 10¢ a minute or less, with a $1 monthly fee. MCI reduces its per-minute rate to 5¢ per minute on Sundays.

But getting the best long distance rates doesn't necessarily require that you be a big spender in long distance or an internet user, only that you be willing to use companies other than the big 3. For instance, customers can get a 10¢ a minute rate in the evenings without paying a monthly fee, while still paying only 15¢ a minute during the day, by using a dial-around service available from Telco Communications. There's also a California company called "Save More on Telecommunications" offering a per-minute rate of 7.9¢ on interstate calls, again with no monthly fee.

Please note that all rates quoted above are for interstate calls only, and may not include monthly PIC-C fees. Customers who make a lot of in-state long distance calls, who make many international calls, or who need to compare rates for calling card calls or personal toll-free numbers will need to spend more time shopping.

For those with web access, a good place to start is the Long Distance Rate Calculator on the Cagey Consumer web site. This enables consumers to get a quick handle on which calling plans are likely to best meet their needs.

The Cagey Consumer web site is hosted on GeoCities at The editor and publisher of Cagey Consumer is Eli Mantel, a computer systems analyst in Palo Alto, California.
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