Cagey Consumer[13k]

For Immediate Release February 10, 2002
For more information, contact Eli Mantel, +1 650-493-7228

AT&T Inducted into Cagey Consumer Hall of Shame

Customers Unable to Determine Unlimited Savings

AT&T has introduced what it has described as a revolutionary approach to long distance service: all your domestic direct-dialed long distance calls for a flat rate of $19.95 per month, provided those calls are made to other AT&T residential customers.

This program has some significant similarities to the Friends & Family program introduced by MCI in 1991. Under that program, calls to other MCI customers were billed at reduced rates.

Deciding whether to sign up for the AT&T program will be harder than the decision to sign up for Friends & Family, which had no monthly charge. Whether Unlimited Calling will save you money depends on how much of your current long distance calling is to people who have AT&T service. In case you haven't been keeping tabs on the phone companies used by your friends and family, AT&T customer service suggests asking them the next time you call, because they won't reveal that information.

If you choose to sign up for AT&T Unlimited Calling though, you'll find out if they're not AT&T customers, because you'll see the charges for those calls on your bill.

What you won't see is a listing of the calls you've placed to AT&T customers. Nor will you get a summary of those calls showing the total number of minutes that your monthly $19.95 fee purchased for you. As a result, once you're on this program, you'll have no obvious way to determine that your calling patterns have changed and you should switch to another calling plan.

AT&T knows that omitting this information will make it difficult for customers to compare the rates they are paying to alternative rate plans offered by competitors. Consumers should recognize that participating in anti-competitive rate plans is not in their best interest. Regulators should also decree that such practices are contrary to the public interest and prohibit them.

The editor and publisher of Cagey Consumer is Eli Mantel, a computer systems analyst in Palo Alto, California.
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