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The Almighty Buck Businesses

Phone Companies Bill Public for Nonexistent Equipment 612

Posted by michael
from the funny-money dept.
Srinivasan Ramakrishnan writes "Forbes has an eye-opening article on the scam that lets the Bells scoop $5 billion every year from the consumer with the sanction of the FCC. The FCC Line charge that appears on every phone bill is a vestige of a deal that was struck by the FCC with the Bells. The deal was touted by the FCC as a historic win that saved $3.2 Billion a year for the consumer - Forbes takes a closer look at the deal."
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Phone Companies Bill Public for Nonexistent Equipment

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  • by wiggys (621350) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:39AM (#5807670)
    If a non-existant phone rings when you're in the woods do you get billed for it?
  • by autopr0n (534291) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:42AM (#5807691) Homepage Journal
    Or, something. I mean seriously, when was the last time you heard about one of these companies actually offering anything beneficial to anyone? They seem to only exist as local monopolies and to rip off the consumer and limit choice every time they get.

    If you ask me, any kind of 'infrastructure' system should be run by the government, like the highway system, and companies should only be allowed access to things they can't have exclusive control over.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:50AM (#5807743)
      Well now you've done it. By stating your Socialist ideals you'll have every Libertarian, Republican, Democrate and Idiot crawling out of the woodwork to call you a pinko commie, and this entire article is going to collapse into a flamewar about religion, politics and the War in Iraq. Just like every other article this past six months, come to think of it.

      While I may be inclined to agree with you to a certain extent, if you want to see the effects of having everything nationalised then take a look at the U.K in the 70's. We're still dealing with the effects from a lot of Labour policies in the 60's and 70's. It isn't always a good idea.
      • While I may be inclined to agree with you to a certain extent, if you want to see the effects of having everything nationalised then take a look at the U.K in the 70's. We're still dealing with the effects from a lot of Labour policies in the 60's and 70's. It isn't always a good idea.

        As it turns out, as far as I can tell, apparently no federal policy maker (economic or otherwise) has read Milton Friedman's [stanford.edu] Capitalism & Freedom (making this event [stanford.edu] quite ironic). Hell, I haven't even read more than half
    • Yeah. So when was the last time the government did anything efficiently or cost-effectively?

      Regulated industry is the way to go, but the problem is, the FCC won't regulate. Probably because the industry has its nose (and wallet) so far up the rear of a bunch of senators it's hard to legislate against.
      • "Yeah. So when was the last time the government did anything efficiently or cost-effectively?"

        This moring I sent a letter to the middle of nowhere over 1000 miles away for under 40 cents.

        Does that count?
        • by Bluesman (104513) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:08AM (#5807845) Homepage
          Even though I agree with your sentiment, using the post office as a model of efficiency just may get you into trouble someday...

        • The reason. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Catskul (323619) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:34AM (#5808027) Homepage
          The US postal system has been separated from the teet. The reason it has been able to work well is that it receives acts in a vaccuum. I believe that it receives no money from the government, and keeps the profit within the system. Its like a giant non-profit company owned by the federal government. It does have its problems though. The regulation that it does have has caused problems. Just do a search on google for: united states postal service business model [google.ie]

          and if you are intrested in how the USPS is organized, look here. [usps.com]
          • Re:The reason. (Score:3, Interesting)

            by stagmeister (575321)
            Its like a giant non-profit company owned by the federal government.

            That's the way to go! When they nationalize things like the phone industry, or even (eventually) the ISP industry, then they shouldn't make it into another agency (then we'll just have more bureacracy), but basically non-profits owned by the gov't. We pay them money (as opposed to it coming out of taxes), and they provide us with a service. Their goal isn't necessarily to make money, but to provide the best service for the least money, a
    • by YetAnotherAnonymousC (594097) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:58AM (#5807791)
      Well, I consider myself a libertarian, and I agree with you nonetheless.

      The fact of the matter is that local phone service is so heavily regulated, subsidized by business service, etc. that there would be *less* overhead if governments provided the service. That doesn't mean private companies couldn't offer service for fancy technologies that are outside the purview of basic service (think private roads and turnpikes).

      I don't think this is inconsistent with the Constitution. Back then, roads and canals fell under the infrastructure sphere. Now, I think basic phone service does. I don't believe that government service would prevent private companies from offering new technologies and services, such as bundling a bunch of services together via fiber to a house. But for those that just have a copper wire to their house and want to call someone in town... there should be a public option.
      • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:26AM (#5807964) Homepage
        But for those that just have a copper wire to their house and want to call someone in town... there should be a public option.

        How about a slightly different approach. The natural monopoly is the last mile - just about everyone agrees on that.

        Half of the fees on your phone bill are for other than last-mile stuff though. Local Number Portability? That's a switch located in a central office. Ditto for 911 service or long distance access.

        The government should eminent domain all the local lines. A fee of a few bucks a month should be charged to anyone who wants to use them. A rental fee should be charged for space in central office facilities. Any company who so desires can set up their own switch in the central office and pay rent on it to the government and sell their services to consumers. The only fixed fee would be for the local loop and this would be a non-profit operation. If a company has an old pulse-dial-only switch lying in the basement and figures they can make money by charging 75 cents a month for zero-feature phone service more power to them. If somebody wants to spend $500k for a state of the art switch they can offer phones which support voice dial. Anybody could get access to the local loop to offer DSL, or cable over phone, or whatever crazy wild creative thing somebody things they can serve over a copper loop. There would be minimal regulation to ensure that whatever goes over the local loop doesn't interfere with other signals or create a hazard, but that would be it.

        That's the route that is being taken with electricity generation - generation is going competitive with transmission and distribution remaining a monopoly. It has worked pretty well in most states that have tried it. I still think that the government should take over the transmission and distribution, or the company which runs them should be forbidden from generating power. Otherwise the company has incentive to structure transmission lines in a manner that makes its power delivery costs lower than for competitors, or reduce transmission capacity so that out-of-state generators can't compete at all.
    • That sounds like pretty much the opposite of what's recently happened in the U.K. with the unbundling of the local loop. This measure was designed to allow smaller companies to compete with British Telecom more directly, giving them the opportunity to place their own equipment in BT's local exchanges.

      Not entirely sure how successful it's been though...

    • by BrookHarty (9119) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:21AM (#5807932) Homepage Journal
      I mean seriously, when was the last time you heard about one of these companies actually offering anything beneficial to anyone..

      Well, if we are talking the voice side, allowing 911 calls on disconnected phones seems pretty beneficial to people who dont want a phone, but can still use 911.

      If we are talking Data side of the telco, I'll agree with you 100%. Telcos fight tooth and nail to keep everyone out of their business, and make money for the stock holders. While bad for the customers, good for the stock holders.

      What we need is a group of people looking at whats fair for both the companies and the consumers. I wouldnt trust the FCC as much as a DHS Orange Alert.
      • I mean seriously, when was the last time you heard about one of these companies actually offering anything beneficial to anyone..

        Well, if we are talking the voice side, allowing 911 calls on disconnected phones seems pretty beneficial to people who dont want a phone, but can still use 911.


        Don't think for a moments they do that out of the goodness of their hearts - the FCC make them do that.

        Alex
    • If you ask me, any kind of 'infrastructure' system should be run by the government, like the highway system

      Now I have to ask, do you Really want the federal goverment to be in charge of all phone lines? I have a feeling, Mr. Rumsfeld would just love that, and we could consider a phone call a confession from here on out.

  • cut the line! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martone66 (643104) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:44AM (#5807703) Journal
    It's times like this that I'm glad I don't pay the local phone monopoly ~$40/month for the "priviledge" of having a landline.

    Ever since I've used my cellphone as my main phone, my phone bill stays consistent month to month, I don't pay extra for long distance (or get screwed in intra-state charges), I get no telemarketing calls, and I have one number where I can be reached.

    Cut your landline if you can!
    • I agree- but for one thing: I get telemarketing calls on my cell phone too! I know it's illegal, but what can I do about it? Not to mention that many times I get calls from friends in the dorm, where caller ID won't work, so I can't screen calls that way
      • Re:cut the line! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:26AM (#5807966) Homepage

        When you get a telemarketing call on your cell, ask them their name, the company they're calling for, and their return phone number. They are legally required to give you all of this information, if you ask.

        Then, ask to speak to the person's manager/supervisor. Inform him/her that this is a cell phone. It is illegal for them to call cell phones. At this point, you've already got their information, so they can't just hang up and run. Inform them that you wish to recoup the cost of this call, and that you want them to send you a cheque for $100 USD. If they refuse, tell them you will take it up with the FCC, and the fine they will levy will be much, much more than that.

        Hey, it's worth a shot.
    • Re:cut the line! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Night Goat (18437)
      You know, you're still paying for the use of the infrastructure if you have a cellphone. The Baby Bells are still getting your money. You are paying the phone monopoly.
    • Amen to that (Score:5, Interesting)

      by No Such Agency (136681) <abmackay@NoSPAm.gmail.com> on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:57AM (#5807789)
      Having a land line is a grotesque and arrogantly undisguised rip-off. If it wasn't for my modem I'd lose it and get a cell. I mean, I still get billed an itemized $5/month for "touch-tone service". The phone company must have recouped the cost of converting to touch-tone many years ago. Almost nobody uses an old-fashioned pulse dial phone anymore.

      And yet.
      • Re:Amen to that (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ryanvm (247662) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:12AM (#5807868)
        Have you ever tried dropping the touch-tone service? Your modem can dial pulse and most phones can too. You'd still be able to use touch-tones on phone menus. The touch-tone service only refers to initiating the call.

        Of course they'll probably tell you that it's not an option. Still, it's worth a shot.
        • Re:Amen to that (Score:3, Informative)

          by mbourgon (186257)
          Actually, go pulse. The only disadvantage is that you'd have to switch your phone back to tone for voice menus. It actually costs them _more_ these days to do pulse. So, if you're willing to give up a little of your time, you can screw them. (From what I remember, Tone allows them to packetize the dialing portion of the call, while pulse requires they leave the circuit open the whole time you're dialing. So that equipment now can be used less.)
          • Re:Amen to that (Score:5, Interesting)

            by The_Rook (136658) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:54AM (#5808183)
            here's a tip i learned long ago.

            when ordering a new land line, always reject the touch tone option they charge extra for. for a few weeks, only pulse dialing works. every now and then, dial using touch tones. usually, they start to work after a few weeks.

            like mbourgon said, it costs the phone companies more to support pulse dialing over touch tone. they just want to see if you're dumb enough to pay for touch tone first.
    • What do you use? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by The Tyro (247333) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:04AM (#5807828)
      My wife and myself both have cell phones, and a land line. I contemplated exactly what you're suggesting, but I need my land line for my DSL. Cell reception is also spotty out where I live; my cell calls from my home often get dropped. they get me coming and going.

      It's a scam, but they've got me... no other broadband available in my area. Of course, even if cable was available, they STILL force you to get a basic cable package before you can get cable broadband. I'm not a TV watcher, so that's money down a rathole.

      What company do you use? Nationwide long distance or anything? I'm curious how you're making this work.
    • by Neck_of_the_Woods (305788) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:07AM (#5807842) Journal

      BUT, if I cut my land line, how would I get in and out of the Matrix!

    • Re:cut the line! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:19AM (#5807919) Homepage
      I lived in a house with some friends for a year, paid my third of the phone bill, and picked up the phone exactly zero times. I've gone without my land line for 8 months and haven't missed it. The only problem is that I can't get a Tivo. Could someone fill me in on the current state of DVRs that can currently, or will soon, hook up to my internet connection?

      -B
  • by BrK (39585) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:44AM (#5807706) Homepage
    Just this morning the wife and I were talking about canceling our VZ land-line (we both have VZW phones and a cable modem).

    This is just another reinforcing reason to do so. The only calls we really get on the land-line are telemarketers anyway, yet a basic line with callerid and a minimal LD plan is $38.00/month.

    The consumer/end-user in this country is really getting screwed by the government and various utility oligopolies.
    • I did this 3 years ago and I couldn't be happier. 7 addresses and 2 states later, I still have the exact same number, no long distance charges ever, and although I'm probably paying too much I know exactly what I'm going to be billed every month. With my Verizon landline, I had message rate service for $11/month, yet my phone bill was regularly $30+ including the long distance carrier before I made a single call.

      I'd just like to add that I have AT&T for my wireless service and they suck. I routinely
      • 7 addresses in 3 years and they don't send you your bills on time? Now that's a head scratcher.

        My problem with ATT wireless was that when the tower was down (we have one tower in this town), there was nothing they would do, nor would they compensate us for loss of service, so we switched to Verizon.

        Joe
  • Tone dial (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quill_28 (553921) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:44AM (#5807707) Journal
    I know in Tennessee, there was/is a 1 or 2 dollar charge per month for having a touch tone instead of a rotary tone.
    My father-in-law resisted for years but finally gave in.
    • That charge still exists (at least in my area), though it does not get itemized on the phone bill.

      My father's bill was $2.00 less than mine, but he finally gave in when his ISP stopped accepting rotary calls after an equipment upgrade.

    • Re:Tone dial (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jdreed1024 (443938) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:14AM (#5807882)
      I know in Tennessee, there was/is a 1 or 2 dollar charge per month for having a touch tone instead of a rotary tone.

      Here in the Boston area, I get charged $0.44 per month for TouchTone service. Which is ridiculous, since with today's digital equipment, it probably takes more effort to understand pulse signals than DTMF tones. A couple of folks I know have sucessfully gotten that canceled on the grounds that they don't use TouchTone. I've been fighting with Verizon for a few months now (I have 2 phones in my apartment - one is rotary, and another is electronic pulse only), but I've had no such luck.

  • by JjCale (555759)
    In Australia, Telstra has been hiking their line rentals [news.com.au] for the last three years. (although apparently the overall call costs are gong down).
  • by Networkink*Man (468175) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:46AM (#5807718) Homepage
    Step 1) Get a cell - cut your line altogether.
    Step 2) Get Cable or Satelite Internet - Better mediums altogether IMO
    Step 3) Rejoice that the "Bells" are screwing you any more. I've been w/o a phone line for 1 year plus now ( I'm sure others have been longer), and I couldn't be happier w/ the arrangement.
    Step 4) Profit! (Or, actually the Bells stop profitting).

    • I can't cut my landline for these reasons:

      1. I have digital satellite, which requires a telephone line
      2. My cell service (T-Mobile) is not reliable enough; what if I need to call 911?
      3. I have an alarm system that uses the phone line

      Those are just a few reasons why I can't cut my land line. I'm sure there are others in the same situation.

      • If you're not using the satellite connection (or using DSL - then it's a bit pointless) for Internet access, you might want to look into one of the Internet telephony companies out there.. Vonage [vonage.com] looked pretty good, as long as you can get a number in your area code. You get a neat little box that works with standard phone equipment. I don't think that solves the 911 problem, though.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      As much as your post wants to make a point, there's one thing you really have to keep in mind...

      Whenever you've had to report a power or cable or some other sort of outage, was your phone out?

      I was one of the early adopters of RoadRunner back in 96, and had cable since up through the end of last year. Verizon offered a deal on DSL, and I bit. Since then I haven't worried a minute about 'net outages of any kind. I almost forget what it was like to have to call Time Warner and report yet another problem
    • Yes, that's the ideal solution... assuming everyone lives in a wired area. I live in a major metro area and we *still* can't get cable internet where we are. We had to get a landline and DSL when we moved here after a year of just having a cellphone, raising our monthly bills by a good $40 JUST to have a no-frills, no long distance landline for the DSL... And Satellite internet SUCKS for online gaming purposes. The packet loss is astounding.
  • by teamhasnoi (554944) <.teamhasnoi. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:46AM (#5807724) Homepage Journal
    It's in the most obvious place, of course --

    Kevin Mitnick's Secret Warehouse!

  • I pay $20 a month (Score:4, Informative)

    by j1mmy (43634) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:48AM (#5807729) Journal
    for a land line with no features (really just a dial tone), just so I can have DSL. It's a complete ripoff.
    • Ditto here. I regularly have 28-31 brief calls a month on my phone, specifically for my TiVo, which I'd just hook up to the net if I could drop the land line and keep the DSL.

      Most folks I know use cell phones more than land lines now. If I didn't have to keep both lines, the cell is cheaper than the land line for my use.

    • for a land line with no features (really just a dial tone), just so I can have DSL. It's a complete ripoff

      This is the primary reason I haven't dropped my land line for a cell phone. I love my DSL line. I don't want cable.
    • by LordYUK (552359) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [128thgirwffej]> on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:17AM (#5807908)
      The phone companies dont advertise this plan, but I know that Verizon, and possibly others, will sell you a dial tone with taxes for less than 10 a month. the catch? they charge you 35 cents for every call. Of course, if you're using it just for the DSL, then you incur no other charges. They were telling me it would be less than 10 a month when I was considering switching from cable to DSL.

      I'd ask your phone company about something similar, if you really want to ditch your land line.

      oh, and I live on the East Coast, in case you're wondering what market I'm in.
  • by gpinzone (531794) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:48AM (#5807735) Homepage Journal
    I got rid of my long distance carrier completey and saved all those FCC imposed taxes on my phone connection. I usually just email anyone who lives outside of my local calling area. If I ever do need to make a LD call, I just use my cell phone or a cheap calling card.
  • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:49AM (#5807740) Journal
    0 line printers - $25,000
    1 phone switch - $133,000
    The same phone switch on newegg - $4

    Succeeding to sweep a damning audit of your shady accounting under the rug: Priceless

    There are some things money can't buy. You use back-office deals with the FCC for that.
  • by Ratphace (667701) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:50AM (#5807744)

    ...to the consumer. The Bell system for all its splendor has been sticking it to us for YEARS. I mean, take touch tone service. For years they charged an additional 'fee' for this service, when in all actuality it was cheaper for them to implement and maintain.

    Also, the Bell system invented DSL back in the last 70's but didn't pursue it because of their own short-sightedness. Then it comes to pass that when the Internet boom took off and the Bell companies were left out in the cold, suddenly they wanted to 'charge' fees each time someone dialed-up an ISP phone number. Luckily the count system told the Bells to suck it. The Bell system claimed it was putting more burden on their system, which might very well be the case, however, they also stuck it to the consumer for YEARS with this 'unlimited local calls' for one rate when they had done studies way back in the day to determine that the average customer makes/receives 6 calls a day with the average call being 4.2 minutes. Now that customers are using MORE of their unlimited service the phone company is crying the blues...

    Let them reap what they've sewn all these years :)
  • Profit! (Score:3, Funny)

    by SnowDog_2112 (23900) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:51AM (#5807748) Homepage
    (Is this joke dead yet?)

    1: Monopoly broken up by government.
    2: Local companies and national carriers hold secret meetings with government regulators, decide how to screw customer over.
    3: ???
    4: Profit!!
    • by MosesJones (55544)

      This is just a three step process, there are no question marks.

      The four step one is the Microsoft DoJ changes

      1) Monopoly found guilty by Goverment
      2) Monopoly has word with new candidate
      3) ???
      4) Goverment lets Monopoly off.

      With the Bells the worst thing is that everyone KNOWS how they are getting the money, but its not exactly something we can all reproduce.

  • by AbdullahHaydar (147260) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:52AM (#5807756) Homepage
    ...is that the wireless companies have been fighting number portability for years (it's still not required: after being passed into law 1996, the FCC has postponed implementation every year) and yet they claim them as part of their fees: Nextel [nextel.com], AT&T [attws.com], etc
    • by tomzyk (158497) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:32AM (#5808015) Journal
      I just noticed this last night while looking at my SprintPCS cellphone bill. I noticed that over the past few months my bill has been steadily increasing. (It's only a few cents every month, but it still keeps climbing!) My last bill was $0.41 higher than the previous one!

      Now, they put the extra charge in the "Taxes and Federal Fines" (or whatever) section, and yet when I checked up on the explanation of these fees, it says something along the lines of "Eventhough we SAY that these are taxes, they really aren't. We're just making this tax/charge up because we're being forced into this number-portability thing..."

      Seriously. Is this legal to label it as a "tax" eventhough it isn't? Man, I'm starting to distrust any fee-based company because they keep raising charges. (I've been with DirectTV for only about 1.5 years and they've already raised my monthly fees by at least $6 and removed some of the channels in hopes that I'll just "upgrade" my package and pay more.)

      For those of you with SprintPCS, check your April bill.
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by superdan2k (135614) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:54AM (#5807766) Homepage Journal
    Sounds vaguely like what I suspect will happen here in Minnesota with other stuff. Right now, we have a pretty large ($4 billion) deficit, and a lot of programs are getting cut. Roads are a problem here because of the huge amounts of population growth we've had in the last 20 years... Right now, our state legislature is talking about allowing private companies to add additional lanes to existing roads and then charge money to use those lanes so that they can recoup the cost of building them, plus make a "reasonable profit", after which time, the cost of using those lanes would be reduced. I heard about this on the news last night, and the first thing I thought of was the telecomms and all the extra bullshit they tack onto our bills.

    You and I both know that the cost of using those lanes would NEVER go down. They'll always find a way to charge more for what they've built, simply because people become so adjusted to things (like telephones) that they become a "necessity" instead of a "luxury" and people pay them blindly for the service. Look at cable TV -- how many of the channels you get in your huge bundle do you actually watch?
  • Monopoly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whig (6869) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:54AM (#5807771) Homepage Journal
    The problem, fundamentally, is the local loop monopoly.

    I'm no advocate of government regulation, but in economic terms, there is only one workable solution to prevent this sort of abuse. If the FCC and state regulators would get out of the way and let communities implement this, the cost and quality of phone service would improve to accurately reflect a competitive market value.

    1. The community should purchase the network: all the last mile copper and rights of way should be owned by the commons and not monopolized by any private entity.

    2. Any company (including the Baby Bells) can bid to rent the use of the network for the provision of any service (dialtone, DSL, etc.) to any customer. These rents should be for a term that allows for regular adjustment as the market changes.

    With this approach, the Baby Bells would be in a good position to maintain a dominant market position in the near term, but not a monopoly which they can abuse. And if other firms can enter the market and do a better job of providing value to consumers and businesses, they will take market share away from the Bells.
  • Get out of the Matrix.
  • An enigma... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bluprint (557000) on Friday April 25, 2003 @09:56AM (#5807786) Homepage
    The government essentially established regulations for phone companies to use in determining thier prices. Phone companies abuse the system (to get more money), and people scream about how evil the phone companies are.

    The government establishes regulations on how much money welfare recipients should get. The recipients abuse the system (we've all seen stories about this at some point, somewhere)....and people scream about "the system".
  • UK line charges (Score:4, Informative)

    by Radian (172121) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:02AM (#5807820)
    In the UK we get charged for line rental (approx £10/month), and we pay for all calls - including local calls. It is my understanding that in the US local calls are free, so you are getting something for the rental charge.
  • ...said it best. [liglobal.com]

    ~Philly
  • by swb (14022) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:04AM (#5807826)
    Phone company billing is just awful no matter how you slice it. I manage the phone system here, and unless you're an (ex-) Qwest employee there's no way you can understand the detailed billing associated with your phone service. The actual monthly phone bill I get from Qwest (or bills, some things they insist on billing seperately -- a RAS PRI has its primary trunk number billed on a seperate bill) looks like my home phone bill, with two extra digits. No service detail, nothing.

    When I took over the phone guy's responsibility when he quit, I asked the telco for a detailed customer record, and I got ~175 page report that detailed our services in a totally unintelligible report. Each DS0 from our four D1s took up about a page on the report, detailing every 10 cent tarrif that made up the price of each DS0, along with the other tarrifs associated with the DS1 itself. After looking at it I pretty much gave up and handed it over to our phone maintenance vendor who audited for me -- they employee two ex Qwest employees specifically for this purpose, since the codings and info aren't explained anywhere but in some Qwest internal documents.

    We ended up dropping a bunch of 1FB (telco slang for analog copper) circuits, CENTREX circuits and other stuff we weren't using. They were live on our demarc block, but not punched to anything.

    This isn't unusual, either -- the vague monthly invoicing and byzantine customer records lead to so many overbilled or unused service that there's an entire industry that does nothing but audit phone bills in exchange for a percentage of the savings.

    My experience with telcos leads me to believe that half of this is a monopolistic lack of desire for reform, government bureaucracy and overregulation, and excessive merger activity that's left them with dozens of computer systems that don't communicate without human intervention. I've been told by both Sprint and Qwest that they have systems so complex that there are few people there who can even *use* both of them, but data is required to be pulled/entered from both of them to get anything done.

    Unfortunately I don't see any hope for reform. You pretty much have to do business with them, and when business is good they give you what they want and waste the money on mergers and exec perks (Nacchio sucks!), and when business is bad (like now), they plead poverty and can't afford to fix this.

    I guess the only hope is that some of the CLECs can do better without becoming just like the ILECs, although I'd imagine the temptation is to become the ILECs, not improve on them.
    • by jmitchel!jmitchel.co (254506) on Friday April 25, 2003 @11:22AM (#5808417)
      My experience with AT&T long distance billing was similarly terrible. I work for a company that used to be an AT&T service provider. We have a small switch that we maintain and I was assigned to match the records with the switch with the Call Detail Records that AT&T was sending us for our bill. It was pretty much impossible. A fair percentage of calls had wildly differing call lengths. Most switches were within 60 seconds of ours, but some varried by hours or days. A number of calls in their records simply do not exist in ours in any way.

      One month I was asked to investigate a huge jump in our bill (30 or 50 percent as I recall). After spending hours fiddling with my record-matching perl and coming back with nothing, I looked at the datestamps on the records. There were records spanning 14 previous months. Once those were stripped out our bill was as close to right as we could hope to demonstrate.
  • True Story... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MoeMoe (659154) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:04AM (#5807827)
    I moved 6 months ago from one house to another and informed Verizon to change my number and consequently terminate my old number, since then my old number has a bill being sent to my new house that keeps adding on and is now up to $350. I called Verizon about it and told them there is no line for that number anymore and never existed in my new residence in the first place, the nasty jerk on the other side said that maybe I requested a second line to add on and if what I was saying is true then there couldnt be a bill because in order to get a bill you have to be using your line (total BS by the way), I told this guy to check when the last time I made a call on that number was, sure enough he told me it was 6 months ago and the last call was to Verizon TS, I asked if there were any notices filed for termination on the date of that call.... About 5 minutes of pause later he told me a supervisor would be in contact shortly.... that was 3 days ago!
    • I had a similar experience with SBC. Last May (2002), I moved, and cancelled my service. Switched to Cox. Thought I was done dealing with the clowns. Imagine my surprise, then, to get a "Dear Deadbeat" letter from them in February. Yes, February. Called them about it, they said it was for transferring my service, and that it was billed in December. Well, that's a little more reasonable--only seven months, instead of nine. I called them, no help. Called their main office in Atlanta, no help.

      Coincid

  • Phone lines... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by (H)elix1 (231155) <slashdot.helix@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:07AM (#5807838) Homepage Journal
    Four years back, I purchased my home. Location mattered, since I wanted DSL and a static IP address.... (all the normal stuff - school system, neighborhoods, etc - were covered too) Called the phone company, was half the maximum distance from the CO, and had the go install DSL after we finished closing. A couple weeks went by and nothing. Finally, I called to find out when they were going to show up and they tell me the lines in our area were multiplexed (?) and would not support DSL. They don't work better than 4kb/s with a POTs connection either, compared to the 48-50kb/s I was getting in my apartment dial up.

    Road Runner moved in a year later and gave me a glorious broadband connection at home, and my servers are at a local ISP. The day my Hughes DirectTV DVR pulls info over my network rather than POTs, is the day I cancel my land line and run all calls through our mobiles. I suspect it is game over for both the cable and telcos once the wireless broadband hits it strides.

    Every time the phone company would call me during supper trying to sell me the latest service, I would ask them for one thing. Can you give me a DSL connection? I'll be damned, but that just horked up the call center script badly. (grin)
  • Quite a few people are chanting the "cut your landline" mantra. My question is, since the FCC also regulates the cell companies, are they (cellular carriers) really any better about not screwing everyone? Somehow I doubt it. Many of these cellular guys are the ones screwing you over on the landline side. Anyone have a cell phone bill handy to see what mysterious "FCC charges" might also be on there?
  • by bahamat (187909) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:13AM (#5807877) Homepage
    Everyone here seems to be talking on the same general thread "cancel your land line to screw the bells".

    Who exactly do you think you're hurting?
    Verizon = Northwest Bell
    SBC = Southwest Bell
    Cingular = PacBell (owned by SBC, see above)

    Who's left?
    AT&T? They started this fiasco.
    WorldCom? Better known as MCI, now bankrupt
    Sprint? NexTel?

    Nobody's going to get screwed by you cancelling yoru land line. You're still paying the same people for your cell phone. Do you think their accounting practices will suddenly become honest just because you're now using wireless?

    "There's too much rat hair in McDonald's food, so I'll just have their fries".

    Think people! Think!
    • by BrK (39585) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:18AM (#5807912) Homepage
      It is easier to get competitive wireless service than it is land-line service in most areas.

      Many people who are canceling their land-lines are doing so because they already have wireless devices that basically de-value their land-line.

      While canceling land-lines might not make any of the bells suddenly "see the light", it will shift more of their income to their wireless markets, which have competition, which *might* just force them to offer competitive services/prices.

      Even if canceling land-lines doesn't fix anything, there is no point in paying $40/month for a useless service.
    • by adzoox (615327) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:29AM (#5807992) Journal

      Cingular is owned by Bellsouth

      Suncom by AT & T

      Verizon was Bell Atlantic and others

      Sprint owns Sprint (and the former 360)

      There are lots of LARGE independent cell companies. You named one. Nextel

      The others are: TMobile and PowerTel with 3.8 million and 1.4 million respectively plus TMoblie has the sexy Catherine Zeta to whore for them. Man, I wish she'd "rouge her knees" for me ;)

      There are others I can't think of. You are partially right. But, the cell phone companies (even if they are the same companies) are in a new era growth of competition, the phobne comapnies and the branches that formed were on a dead tree to begin with.

  • An MTA surcharge -Mass Transit Authority. What the bloody hell does telecommunications have to do with mass transit? I work in the suburbs - why do I have to subsidizie the MTA, and through a phone levy, no less!
  • Hold on a sec (Score:4, Interesting)

    by n-baxley (103975) <nate AT baxleys DOT org> on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:15AM (#5807888) Homepage Journal
    $5 billion every year from the consumer

    Now lets gets some of the facts straight. What they found was 5 billion in equipment that the bells had on their books but couldn't be found. They aren't getting away with that whole amount each year. I'm outraged by the whole bells situation too, but let's read the article. Especially one as informative as this one. I know, this is /. what am I thinking.
  • Switch to Vonage... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wumarkus420 (548138) <(wumarkus) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:28AM (#5807987) Homepage
    I switched to Vonage a few months ago and I don't pay any fees except a little over a dollar for Federal tax.

    Of course, I don't expect this to last too long, but in the meantime, it's been well worth it! My old phone bill had over $35 of bullshit fees a month from the subscriber line charge, to the universal service fee. It's all a giant scam.
  • that aint all! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spazoid12 (525450) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:34AM (#5808028)
    Check out your bill and notice the "Federal Excise Tax"...it's about 3% of your bill. Ever wonder what it's for?

    It was originally supposed to pay for the Spanish American War.

    It was supposed to be a temporary tax that went away after it satisfied it's original intent. Haha! Sure...

    I wonder what is the oldest such tax??
  • by amcguinn (549297) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:36AM (#5808042) Homepage Journal

    This is a normal failure of regulating monopolies. If your plan for an industry is to have a private monopoly and regulate it, then expect this sort of thing to happen every few decades.

    If you choose nationalisation instead, it's much worse. Costs may be low, but service will be dreadful to non-existent. Want a new phone line installed? Sure: it will be ready in 6 months to a year (eg UK or Italy before privatisation).

    Local community ownership has been raised here; that might work. One region of the UK -- Kingston upon Hull -- had a phone service run by the local council (city government). I think it was more or less OK, much like the nationalised service. The council sold it off for umpteen million at the top of the telecoms boom, then lost all the money in an investment swindle (or it might have been BCCI). In the UK at least, massive incompetence or corruption is always a danger with local government.

    Deregulation is tricky too. Comms networks are a textbook natural monopoly: barriers to entry are huge. You will be lucky to end up with real competition.

    I think light regulation is the best answer. Try to encourage competition rather than capping retail prices. The inefficiencies caused by having duplicated facilities provided by competing businesses are small compared to the institutional paralysis produced by public or private monopolies. In many countries people have abandoned monopoly-provided fixed lines in droves for competing cellular providers.

    The moment you sit regulators round a table with the industry to make deals, you're heading for disaster. Politicians are tempted to do this to get "achievements" they can point to, but there's always a price and it's usually hidden from the electorate. It's better for the politicians to stand back, and only intervene when they see anti-competitive behaviour, and then stamp down without any discussion.

  • by michael_cain (66650) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:41AM (#5808085) Journal
    First, I am not surprised about the inaccurate accounting of equipment at an RBOC, or any large telephone company. Because of the regulatory history (and local phone companies are probably more heavily regulated in terms of funky accounting practices than any other kind of company), an RBOC has to actually keep multiple sets of books. Consider depreciation on a piece of switching equipment. The IRS may require that it be depreciated over the course of ten years for tax purposes. The state in which it is located may require that it be depreciated over the course of thirty years for rate-setting purposes. Depending on the services for which it is used, there may be additional FCC accounting rules. It may have an actual usable lifetime of twelve years, then is replaced, but gets refurbished and reinstalled in a different state that has yet another set of rules. If it is used in providing multiple services, there may be multiple sets of conflicting accounting rules that apply to it. If it is destroyed, some of the rules may require that it be carried on the books until it is fully depreciated, even though it no longer exists.

    For the RBOCS, keep in mind that serious regulation started in 1934, and there were 23 local companies operating under the AT&T banner. Then those companies were consolidated into seven in 1984, and have further combined into just three. Could anyone have kept accurate track of equipment and accounting for it under those conditions?

  • by red_dragon (1761) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:56AM (#5808201) Homepage

    I work at a company whose head office is located in an old manor house within a high-scale community. Sometime during the development of the community, before the company acquired the house and while the community's developer was using it as its sales office, the local phone company decided that the manor house's basement would be a good place to house an OC-3 multiplexer (a Fujitsu FLM-150, in this case) to serve the community, despite the fact that the building would eventually become a private property.

    A few years later, the developer finished its work, and sold the house to our company, who then sent contractors to upgrade the electrical and network wiring. At one point, they found two pairs of wires that were unmarked, and they couldn't figure out what they were used for (not out of incompetence, mind you), so they yanked them. Come the next day, a telco van was outside, saying that they had received complaints about loss of service and may I please come in to check our equipment.

    It didn't take long for the facilities manager to ask the telco to please get the bloody machine out of our property. The requests have fallen on deaf ears, however. We still have the multiplexer here, along with the telco end every pair of analogue and digital lines in the community, including the T1 smartjacks for the country club next door. It is absolutely trivial to come in and open the multiplexer's cabinet and screw around with the linecards inside it, not to mention being able to tap into any of the lines on the demarc's punch panels themselves. The telco knows all of this, but they won't do anything about it because they're too bleeding lazy and it would cost them money to move the equipment to somewhere else.

  • by icepick (17241) on Friday April 25, 2003 @10:58AM (#5808221) Homepage Journal
    You can read about many of the other scams the teleco's are in at TeleTruth [teletruth.org]. Some quotes from their front page:

    "Teletruth estimates that customers paid Verizon Pennsylvania $785 per household for a fiber-optic service they will never receive."

    "50% of All Small Business phonebills have mistakes. ---And that's why we have announced our "Send Us Your Phone Bill" campaign in the Verizon territory to help business and residential customers recover overcharges on their Verizon telephone bills."

    Also if you have a lot more time than I do you can read "The Unauthorized Bio of the Baby Bells" [newnetworks.com] and How The Bells Stole America's Digital Future [netaction.org]. Excerpt from the latter:

    "New Networks Institute (NNI) estimates that consumers have already paid over $45 billion in extra telephone charges, and continue to pay over $8 billion annually. As monopoly providers of local phone service, the Bells are still subject to some regulation, yet they are among the most profitable companies in America today. Bell profit margins are more than double that of the major competitive long distance companies and other regulated utilities and literally 167% above the profit margins of some of America's best-known companies. Much of this excess profit is a result of the financial incentives that were supposed to build the infrastructure for America's digital future."

    The guy behind all this is Bruce Kushnick [google.com]. I've yet to find any one claiming he's anything but on the level. If you have please email me.

    My blog post about this [icepick.info]
  • by QwkHyenA (207573) on Friday April 25, 2003 @11:02AM (#5808260) Homepage
    Every single Pizza delivery company requires a landline (atleast in bad areas!) I got ride of my land line a few years ago only to find out that they won't deliver a pizza to a cell phone number!

    And it does make sense.

    *holdup man calls Domino's behind Walmart*
    Gunman: Umm..Yeah.
    Gunman: I'd like to order a pizza behind Walmart on 32nd street.
    Gunman: Tell him to delivery all his other orders first.
    Gunman: I'll just wait...

    So, as a programmer I REQUIRE a land line to get my nourishment! (and if you tip them well, after a while they deliver beer too!)

    • Nope, at least not in Austin, Texas.

      I don't do it very often but I've never had any problem with Papa John's or Mr. Gattis delivering to me.

      I'm one of those guys without a land line -- I have just a cell phone.

      I don't advertise that fact, but then I don't tell them I'm fat, either.

      --Richard
  • by Casca (4032) on Friday April 25, 2003 @11:23AM (#5808427) Journal
    Has anyone ever seen something that will let you make calls with your regular telephone, but route them out through your cellphone? Something like a base station that you plug into your homes phone wiring, and then drop your cellphone into when you want to use one of the homes wired phones? They make them for VoIP phones, but I havn't seen one that works with cells.

    Anyway, if I could find one out there, that is what I would use.
  • by The Creator (4611) on Friday April 25, 2003 @11:26AM (#5808460) Homepage Journal
    I have an internet connection for $27/month, it is 10Mbit. If we say that a telephone call is 128kbit(64kbit in each direction) then that is enough for 78 telephones in my appartement. If we used a speech codec that reduced the data to 1/5 of the original size, then i could have 390 telephones in my appartement.


    Now, if i, in theory can have 390 phones for $27/month how much is it really worth having one?

  • by Zarquon (1778) on Friday April 25, 2003 @12:43PM (#5809060)
    When they were auditing for Y2K bugs, all the phone companies ran massive audits and found stuff they hadn't known about for years.. and the mergers were tremendously complicating things as well. There was stuff in the network well over 40 years old. But the price on the equipment they use certainly suggests _why_ they leave equipment from the 60s in place.

    But they should have fairly decent records for now from that audit process.

  • NO LANDLINE!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blitzrage (185758) on Friday April 25, 2003 @01:23PM (#5809514) Homepage
    Since I'm already paying $45 a month for highspeed internet (I'm more than satisfied with my 300KB down and 60KB up (not bit)) and pretty much everyone I talk to on a regular basis also has highspeed internet, so I've cut the line to my landline, gone entirely cell and pager combination and I couldn't be happier. My cell is never on, so I receive all calls via my pager (since the cell battery can die, and needs to be charged, and is more expensive to replace. If the pager battery dies, I put in a single AAA battery and forget about it for 1-2 months).

    I now use Windows Messenger for my voice, although I have been playing with Xphone (http://www.xten.com) which is simply amazing. Put it on my iPaq with wireless internet, and I now have an 802.11b phone. I've heard there is a Linux version in the works, but won't be out for several months. Can't wait so I can put it on my Zaurus!

    So for me, no more long distance charges which is rediculous in my opinion. I'll gladly take my internet phones thank you very much. Asterisk at http://www.asteriskpbx.com can run my internal phone network and Cisco IP phones will replace my landline phones to run over the internet.

    http://fwd.pulver.com is my new phone number (18924 to be exact)

    So screw the Bells, I don't need'em. Cable internet all the way baby. I've been landline free since January 1st, 2003, and wish I'd done it sooner.
  • by OldHawk777 (19923) <oh21&comcast,net> on Friday April 25, 2003 @01:26PM (#5809546) Journal

    There are (I think) many other business scams/cons occuring.

    My wife got an unknown charge on a credit card. She tried to correct the obvious billing mistake, but as of today many weeks later the business that charged and/or the credit card folks have our money. At one point she was given a phone number to call, she called, and we got charges ($4) on our phone bill for calling the number the company provided. Nothing resolved/achieved we are out about $40 and consider it a lesson learned.

    A couple times over the past few decades, I had a problem where the credit card company refused to remove the about $50 charge, another time (different credit card) would not stop recurring charges to an ISP. I told, wrote, and emailed all involved that the credit cards were canceled on my request and that I would not pay any charges or bills that were caused by the companies.
    I got some threats, but I used some strong expressive English and did call one company a group of scam and con artist.

    I am beginning to here these kinds of complaints more often. The companies end up with a few extra dollars, know you won't sue for $50 worth of fraud, and hope you pay the bill, don't cancel the credit cards, and continue on as if nothing happened.

    A few dollars here and there must really help big business's by the millions monthly, and GW Bush thinks folks will trust business and the economy soon. We learned a lesson with enron, GC, ... these other small aggravations just keep punctuating economic reality saying theft and fraud at many levels is common in USA business.

    OldHawk777

    Reality is a self-induced hallucination.

  • Vonage to the rescue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Friday April 25, 2003 @02:54PM (#5810473) Journal
    For $40/mo, I get an IP phone that I can take and plug into any broadband network via DHCP. I get unlimited calls anywhere in the US and Canada, and no other fees.

    The voice quality is good, and the price is excellent, and I can take the # anywhere I want to - just plug into broadband, it autoconfigures with DHCP, and in 10 seconds or less, I'm up!

    The bells, with all their "X per minute on Wednesdays between 4 and 11PM" bull---t are ripe for a serious change in their business model.

  • by Kasmiur (464127) on Friday April 25, 2003 @03:35PM (#5810838)
    DSL can exist without a active phone service. Its called something like a Null phone line. Qwest is doing this every day in the phoenix metro area with thier Choice Tv/Online service. Its VDSL and there are plenty of customers there without a phone but with the VDSL working.

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