The Thrill of Telephone De-reg

When congress deregulated the telecommunications industry in 1996, we consumers were told that we simply had no idea how "thrilled" we were going to be now that the phone giants had been unshackled from government restraints, allowing the corporations to romp gaily across the wide open spaces of the free market.

They were right -- we truly didn't know how thrilled we'd be. As in, not at all. Rates are up, service is down, and corporate arrogance rules over us consumers.

I received an email from Debbie, a Californian who needed to talk about how thrilled she was by AT&T's romp right over her. AT&T's sales staff had convinced her that the perfect phone service for her was the "7-cents-a-minute dialing plan." Call anywhere, anytime, 7-cents, all-inclusive, was the sales pitch, and Debbie signed up.

Then she made an 18-minute international call, and was stunned to get a bill for $80 -- more than $4 a minute. She called AT&T to get it straight, but could not get through to a live human being. Then she learned a neat trick that might come in handy for all of us -- she punched the number for buying a new service from AT&T, and BINGO! She immediately had a human on the line.

Oh, no, said the human, international calls are separate and surely she was told this. Uh-uh, said Debbie, who clearly recalls the enthusiastic "7-cents-a-minute, all inclusive" pitch she had received. She asked that the 80 bucks be deleted from her bill. Denied.

So Debbie filed a complaint with the FCC and soon got a call back, but not from the FCC -- from an AT&T official. It seems that the FCC forwards consumer complaints to the corporations. Would the corporate official adjust her bill, Debbie asked. No. But she was told she could buy AT&T's international plan for an extra monthly fee.

A couple of weeks later, Debbie got a letter from the FCC telling her that the case was now closed. It thanked her for contacting the FCC.

Thanks, congress . . . What a thrill.


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