8.11.2004

FCC wants to dig deeper into soldiers' pockets

The following text is from the current issue of the Army Times. Seems the FCC wants to jack up charges on prepaid calling cards. Read the story and if you wish to voice your opinion regarding this move by the FCC, the number to the White House comment line is :

1.800.696.6322


On a personal note, we do not have long distance on our land line. Heck, I didn't even WANT a land line to begin with but we decided the cost wasn't that bad and The Husband felt better having one. But no long distance. I have yet to find a company that can beat the rates we get on these calling cards - 3.5 cents per minute. I give them to my Grandmother, my Godmother, my parents, my BILs, and anyone else who might have a need for one. They make wonderful little gifts and people seem to appreciate receiving them. I know several people who consider them lifesavers while they were over in the Litter Box. To bump rates up by 20% for us, stateside, wouldn't be a HUGE deal but for those overseas (Korea would be another place I've sent cards) it will make a big dent in a budget.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, call the White House comment line and let them know what you think. Thanks.



FROM THE ARMY TIMES :

"Defense officials, lawmakers, the USO and others have asked the Federal Communications Commission to consider the effect on service members’ wallets before ruling on an issue that could raise the costs for AT&T prepaid phone cards by as much as 20 percent.

The USO, which provides free prepaid calling cards to service members, said FCC-imposed charges would undermine its Operation Phone Home program.

“It would directly interfere with the ability of military men and women to phone home from far away, because as costs rise to providers, they will quickly be passed along to consumers — including men and women in uniform,” wrote Edward Powell, president and chief executive officer of USO, in a July 16 letter to the FCC.

FCC spokeswoman Diane Griffin said a decision has not been made on a petition by AT&T seeking formal exemption from the fees, and added she could not discuss pending decisions. AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones said the cost of prepaid phone cards could increase by as much as 20 percent if the FCC rebuffs the petition.

Prepaid phone cards provide a lifeline to home for tens of thousands of troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world. Service members make more than 1 billion minutes of long-distance calls each year on AT&T prepaid cards sold on military bases, company officials said.

“We asked the FCC to rule that enhanced prepaid cards be considered an information service,” said Jones, because retailers have the ability to place ads on the cards or arrange for callers to hear informational messages when they use the cards. As such, she said, the cards should be subject to interstate charges that apply to communications lines used between states, rather than the more costly intrastate charges assessed by local phone providers for local communications lines within a state.

Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, weighed in with a letter July 23 to the FCC, noting that Congress last year passed a law allowing the Defense Department to provide prepaid calling cards or other telecommunications support of up to $40 a month to troops deployed in combat zones.

“Should AT&T raise their prices for prepaid calling cards, this benefit would be eroded,” Abell wrote. “We request that the impact on military personnel be considered in the commission’s proceedings.”

“This action is particularly unconscionable during a time of war,” wrote Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., in July 16 letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. “We simply cannot permit rate hikes exceeding 20 percent that take money out of soldiers’ pockets while they defend our country.”

Sources said the FCC has temporarily backed away from ruling on the issue in order to further research the potential impact.

These “enhanced” prepaid cards, as AT&T calls them, also are sold through major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Those companies launched a campaign in mid-July to alert their customers about the possible cost increase. When customers used their cards to make a call, they received an informational message with a toll-free AT&T number to call, which was forwarded to the White House. Within a week, White House officials had received 800,000 calls, Jones said.

Members of the United States Telecom Association, made up primarily of local phone companies, have drawn battle lines over the issue, saying AT&T should not be exempt from the charges that other prepaid card providers pay.

“Local phone companies are proud to support our troops — in fact, many have donated thousands of phone cards to them,” said USTA spokeswoman Allison Remsen. “Unfortunately, this is another example of AT&T trying to game the system and dodge its responsibility to help maintain this country’s phone lines. Using the troops in Iraq to help perpetrate this charade is truly an all-time low.”

Prepaid calls consist of two separate “calls” — one from the card holder to a “service platform,” then a “call” from the platform to the person the caller is trying to reach. Each call is usually is routed across state lines.

In its petition, AT&T contends the local-access charges in question should be added only if the caller or third party happens to be in the same state as the service platform that links the two.

But the USTA contends other prepaid card providers have been paying these access charges.

The fees help support the Universal Services Fund, which subsidizes the costs of telecommunications in rural and isolated areas, and also are used to pay local phone companies for the use of their lines."

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