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Fighting Long Distance Phone Companies


Fighting the Giants - When Big Business Squeezes the Unsuspecting Without Punishment


It's the middle of month -- fur is flying as John is working hard to keep up with the myriad projects on his plate. As a small businessman with five employees he's striving to keep up during the busy times and fill things up during the slow times. It's a never-ending project, but his work is his passion that keeps him going. He's living the American dream.

One afternoon he opens a strange telephone bill from a carrier that is not his. John's eyes bulge out -- this major three-letter company is billing him for more than $400 for long distance service. His normal long distance bill is usually $35. He did not authorize this change, and his blood pressure creeps up more than a few notches.

John gets on the phone. He can't afford the time, but he vows not to pay an illegal phone bill.

John has been "slammed." Slamming is telephone company jargon for an unauthorized switch in one's long-distance carrier.

John wades through a swamp of menu options and finally pushes the correct sequence of buttons. And he waits. And waits. After ten minutes a voice comes on. John explains his problem, but the voice at the other end says he needs to call another extension. She will gladly transfer him. He takes her up on the offer. And he waits. And waits.

Five minutes later he speaks to a young man who also listens to John's problem. "I'm sorry, sir," he says, "but we have confirmation that you authorized that change. Let me transfer back to the service department." Before John can say a word, he's been put on hold again.

It's everything John can do to keep from going ballistic. He's already taken 25 minutes out of his busy day, only to be confronted by someone half his age basically telling him that he's a liar. When the next person picks up, John asks to speak with her supervisor. "I'm sorry, sir," the voice replies, "we dont' have any supervisors on the floor." John can hear dozens of jabbering voices in the background, so he says, "You mean to tell me that with all those dozens of people working around you, no one is in charge?"

"I'm sorry, sir, we have no supervisors on the floor."

At this point John can tell it's a practiced line. "Let me speak to your supervisor -- NOW!"

"I'm sorry, sir, we have no--"

Well, you can guess what happened next. John got quite firm with the young lady and demanded to speak with a supervisor.

There's a moment of silence before the woman quietly says, "One minute, please," and John is once again put on hold.

Five minutes later, John is quite exasperated as he explains his problem to a supervisor, who reiterates the line about having confirmation to make the change. The supervisor then adds, "If you have a problem with your telephone service, sir, you will have to talk with your local telephone company."

John tries to reason but gets nowhere. The supervisor simply refers John to speak with his local service provider.

So, with over an hour eaten out of his day, John calls his local provider. Long story short, he spends another hour being passed around, put on hold, and told that the issue is with his long distance carrier.

Four hours later, after calling back and forth between the two companies several times, John is no closer to solving this problem than when he started. His day is shot, he's at his wits end--and the three-letter telephone company is not changing it's outlandish .68 cents-per-minute rate.

FCC rules for cases like this vary. It depends on whether or not John has paid the bill. If he hasn't paid the bill, he doesn't have to pay the slamming phone company for the first 30 days. He will have to pay for anything after that, but only at his original carrier's rate. If John has paid the bill already, the carrier that slammed him must then pay 150% of what they received from John to the original carrier. Then the original carrier pays 50% of what would have been the original bill back to John.

What's so outlandish is that iin both of these scenarios, John must "prove" the slam occurred. Keep in mind that he has no access to phone company files. For that he has to make requests through the state's public utilities commission.

What is so terribly wrong with this picture is that John, the small businessman, is victimized out of at least half a day's work--and maybe many more hours than that. It's a significant loss of productivity, time, and money--and in the end, he may be forced to pay MORE THAN TEN TIMES his normal phone rate.

Plain and simple, this is white collar crime. It's overlooked by the FCC and ignored by the major media. With all the advertising revenue that long distance carriers provide to TV and print media, reporters don't dare touch stories like these with a sterilized twenty foot pole. Why not? Follow the money.

Do the major phone companies really do this? Sadly, the answer is yes. One person I interviewed for this article recently confided that when she worked for one of the major phone companies, she routinely fielded calls from people about unauthorized changes in long distance service. "Routinely" was three-to-five times PER DAY, and this was just one person working in a room of almost fifty people on her shift.

The loser in these situations is always the small businessman, or worse yet, the lonely widow.

The FCC believes their rules are so punative that any telephone company is automatically discouraged from slamming. But after reviewing reality, it appears that the telephone companies know they're going to get away with it, so they continue the practice.

They know that people don't want to waste four-to-six hours of their day waiting on hold and being told they're a liar. So, the big boys get away with unethical business practices (essentially theft), knowing that very few will challenge them and their high paid lawyers.

They also know that any fines that they do pay are insignificant compared to the overwhelming profit they make from this illegal practice.

And the FCC just goes on their merry way, thinking all is good.

Questions to be considered here are "who is getting kickbacks?" "Why don't local service providers do more to warn people about slamming?" "Why won't the FCC change their law to make slamming punishable by much heftier fines?"

There is one solution: A PIC freeze is when your local carrier puts a lock on your long distance service, so that you must be called by the local carrier before any long distance service is switched. But local carriers don't tell you about PIC freezes unless you ask them. Why not!? Something needs to change!

John still can't believe it happened to him. He says, "Why on God's green earth would anyone change their long distance service from .07 cents a minute to .68 cents a minute? Who would be stupid enough to do that? They [the long distance carrier] can pay their lawyers $150 an hour to try to get that $409 from me, but they're going to have to pay their lawyers a lot, because I don't care if it goes to court ... I ain't paying them a dime. They will have to lay me in a grave before I pay that."

You go, John. If David can beat Goliath, you can kick [that three-letter telephone company] in the shin.

Addendum to this story: After the above was written, John spent another five hours on the phone trying to get the matter resolved. John was told no one in the company would be able to alter the rate, even if he appealed to the president of the company. They simply would not budge on the .68 cents/minute rate resulting in the $409 charge.

John decided to file an official dispute with the company. Get this: When he was transferred to the disputing office, the bill was immediately adjusted to less than .10 cents/minute, which John paid just to end the ordeal.

Note: To discover who is providing your long-distance service, pick up your phone and dial 1-700-555-4141. If it's not who you think it should be, you've been slammed. If it IS who you want it to be, call your local service provider and instruct them to put a "PIC Freeze" on your line. This prevents switches in long-distance service without your direct authorization.
To report slamming, visit the FCC website at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html. You can also send a complaint to fccinfo@fcc.gov
Other FCC contact info:
Written complaints can be sent to
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Complaints can be faxed to: 202-418-0232

Phone: Toll Free: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
     
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