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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Local Phone Call

All over the country the Bell operating companies want you to pay for your local telephone service on the same basis that you pay for long distance telephone calls. Instead of the “flat rate” monthly bill that most residential customers receive, these telephone companies are planning for local calls to be measured according to how long you call, how many blocks away you call, the number of calls and the time of day that you call.
Immediate mandatory local measured service (LMS) is poor tactically so most phone companies usually want to ease toward that goal by offering it as an option. The justification is that people who do not use the telephone very much will pay less.

Despite a slick propaganda effort in recent years by AT&T and its local phone companies, many consumers are not buying the argument. LMS was defeated recently in Wisconsin, and Cong. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) believes that it will suffer a sound defeat in his state shortly. In fact, the more people find out about the consequences of LMS, the greater the rebellion becomes. This is especially the case as the drive for Life Line Service becomes a more popular consumer cause to take care of the poorer telephone user.

Here is a checklist of what you should consider under an LMS system:

  1. Once residential telephone consumers are classified, can they ever generate a united front against the phone company? LMS has a clever political plus for the phone company: it divides and rules consumers more effectively as different groups of consumers have to fight each other for position.
  2. How do you check to verify any mistakes or overcharges the phone companies make on your bill as they measure each local telephone call three or four ways. You are at the mercy of their computer and how they arrange it. Will the company give you a print-out of your local calls, as they do for long distance? Can you imagine the privacy problems that may cause?
  3. How much do all this expensive metering equipment and billing costs add up to in your monthly bill? You must know that you will pay for this enhanced rate base.
  4. Since the phone company, under LMS, will want to expend huge advertising budgets to get you to make more local calls (“reach out and touch someone across the street”) in order to generate more revenue, who pays for all these television, radio and newspaper ads? And how can this promotional waste by a monopoly phone company be restrained?
  5. With LMS as a major incentive to generate greater revenues, will the phone company be as interested in expanding universal service at an affordable rate? Why should the phone company direct its effort toward expanding the number of telephone subscribers under a rate regulated system, when it can bypass the state utility commission and advertise its promotions, contests, etc., to get people to increase their locally measured calls?
  6. LMS makes unbundling of telephone costs more likely. Already people are being charged 6 cents per month in southern California for the 911 emergency number, even though some areas do not have it yet, or 65 cents per month for maintaining the wires from your phone to the outside of your home. More complexity, more confusion and more fronts to fight make it increasingly impossible for most consumers to resist.
  7. What is cost-based pricing for local measure service anyhow? Most economists agree that the cost of making an off-peak’ local call is or approaches zero. If the only calls that impose significant costs on the system are those made during peak calling hours, why doesn’t the telephone company propose to surcharge those calls only? Because the true purpose behind LMS is to raise everybody’s bill in an ever increasing spiral from 7 to 10 cents a local call now to double that in a few years.
  8. How does the telephone company monetize the anxiety of elderly Americans whose only contact with the outside world most of the day is the telephone and who, under LMS, have to consider their budget each time they make a call? Some of these calls are emergency calls which should not be inhibited in any manner. Nonprofit, citizen and religious groups rely heavily on local calling to communicate with their members and advance their cases. Under LMS, such calls will cost lots of money.

If the telephone company is upset with the very heavy users of local service, involving computers, it can certainly deal with that oversaturation by these hour after hour data users. Otherwise, tell your local company to leave you alone and drop their local measuring mania.