Consumers can learn how to challenge rate increase requests by their telephone company in a new book called "How to Talk Back to the Telephone Company."
The 201-page manual written by Louis J. Sirico Jr., a former associate of Ralph Nader, summarizes the key steps in a typical telephone case before a state regulatory commission, and explains how a consumer group can intervene in the process.
The book begins with the assertion that telephone customers need a bill of rights, including the right to service priced as low as possible, accurate and readable telephone bills and reasonable telephone deposits.
Another section of the book warns that the present trend toward "message unit pricing" will bring higher telephone rates initially because of the additional billing equipment required. "The "message unit pricing" permits the telephone company to charge for local service according to the time and distance of each call -- the same way that long distance charges are computed.
Sirico advises readers to decide on realistic goals before entering a rate case. "Do you expect to stop a rate hike cold or should you concentrate on a specific issue like obtaining bilingual telephone service or disallowing institutional advertising as an operating expense?"
Other tips for fighting rate increases:
Read the files of previous rate cases to learn what can be expected.
File as an intervenor in the case so you will receive copies of all documents submitted by the company and commission notices.
Present as witnesses individual consumers, small business owners, labor union members and low income consumer for the most effective explanation of how phone company rates and policies affect people.
The book points out that the office of the people's counsel represents consumer interests in some areas, including the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Sirico said that there are serious political defects in relying compeletely on people's counsel since the budget for that office is "subject to the whims of politicians."
The American Telephone and Telegraph Co., which provides 81 percent of the telephone service in the U.S. through its 23 operating companies, is a key target of the book. Pic Wagner, Speaking for the company yesterday, said, "We don't think the proposals are particularly helpful to the vast general public."
Copies of the book are available from the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, P.O. Box 12038, Washington, D.C. 20005 at $20 for businesss, professionals and organizations and $10 for individuals.