Once again Washington-area consumers are feeling the effects of a telephone company crusade for Optional Measured Service--the latest name for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. proposal to compute your monthly telephone bill according to the number of local calls you make, the length of time you talk, the time of day you place the call and the distance involved.
Last year, the District of Columbia Public Service Commission turned down the C&P request for what the company at that time was calling Local Measured Service (LMS). The commission rejected the proposal then on the grounds that there was insufficient customer interest.
Now LMS has been reborn as OMS and and has become the focus of C&P advertising, direct mail appeals to customers and speeches by company representatives to community groups--all with the intent of winning over customers and regulators.
Woven into the new campaign are hints from C&P officials that failure to adopt the OMS proposal could lead to higher rates.
"OMS is a way to keep basic local service affordable for everyone," according to C&P representative Web Chamberlin. He said that OMS would not be mandatory; instead, it would be offered as an alternative in addition to the flat rate, measured rate and economy rates already in effect.
Critics of OMS, however, complain that it will lead to higher monthly bills for some customers, that it will be like "having a pay telephone in your living room," and that it will be next to impossible for customers to monitor the accuracy of the costs for which they are billed by C&P computers.
In addition, they say that customers who stand to benefit the most from measured service--those who make limited use of their telephones--already have a choice of bargain rates.
A D.C. resident, for example, can subscribe to the economy rate of $2.20 a month and pay 4.9 cents for each local call. That compares with the flat rate for unlimited local calls of $8.83. In between are the measured rates, which in D.C. provide unlimited calling within the District and cost $4.51 a month plus 4.9 cents for each local call to Maryland or Virginia. Area measured service provides 60 calls within the metropolitan area and costs $4.51 a month plus 4.9 cents for each local call after the first 60.
Customers in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland also can choose economy and measured rates rather than the traditional flat rate, although the actual prices vary widely, according to jurisdiction. The Arlington economy rate, for example, is $6.36 a month plus 10.8 cents for each local call while the Silver Spring economy rate is $5.34 a month plus 9 cents for each local call.
Chamberlin acknowledges that the OMS rate could cost some customers more than they now pay for telephone service. "This [OMS] is not a service for every customer," he said. "It is something you should evaluate--and that is the beauty of it. You look at your calling patterns and determine if it will cost you more or less."
The first phase of C&P's effort to introduce OMS began Feb. 15 when a series of company advertisements began playing on 11 Washington-area radio stations. In essence, the ads said C&P has "developed a money-saving option called Optional Measured Service" but isn't allowed to offer it here. The ads then advised listeners to "keep an eye out for more news on OMS." The radio spots were followed with a newspaper campaign asking customers to write C&P and say if they would like to have OMS as an option. The next step comes Monday 7 when C&P sends District of Columbia customers a direct mail promotion that asks customer opinion on the OMS proposal.
These actions were designed to help C&P build a statistical base for the petition it plans to file within the next several weeks seeking the approval of the D.C. Public Service Commission to introduce OMS as an option for D.C. telephone users.
Similar petitions will be filed in Maryland and Virginia, probably later this year, Chamberlin said.