The Aug. 24 op-ed column titled "Phone Wars" by Robert Kuttner is all too true. Like in "Star Wars," there is indeed an evil empire out there, but now it's the phone bandits. My company was hit by five slammers and crammers all in one week this April, and our accounting department didn't discover the piracy until our phone bills arrived a month later. And this was not the first time we've been victimized. Usually the bandit calls, gets the name of the employee who answers the phone and later claims that person had authorized the change. This time, one of them simply invented an authorization.
Another charged us double our long-distance carrier rates. The cost of this latest raid on our accounts amounts to hundreds of dollars. Our local phone company and our long-distance carrier were sympathetic, but the message was: We have to negotiate with the bandits to get restitution. We called the Federal Communications Commission, but the complaint line was so overloaded we couldn't get through.
Most businesses would probably decide that justice is not worth the management cost, pay the damages and get on with it. The most helpful agency in our case was the Virginia State Corporation Commission. It sent us the FCC Web site address for filing our complaint: http: //svartifoss.fcc.gov:8080/ prod/ccb/enforcement/ccform. html. Perhaps if more phone victims would file complaints on this Web site some stronger regulatory action would bring relief to consumers.
ROBERT O. BEACH II
I understand that the telecommunications industry has become confusing, but Robert Kuttner may have brought part of the problem on himself. He said that he contacted his local carrier to have his local service temporarily suspended. I work for a major long-distance company, and when a phone is disconnected from long distance, for whatever cause, the local phone company's computer informs the one at the long-distance company that the customer has disconnected the long-distance service. Most long-distance companies have a policy that the customer must have long distance with that company for there to be any calling plans on the account.
When the notification from the local phone company tells the long-distance company that the customer is disconnected from long distance, the long-distance company usually cancels the calling plans on the account. When the customer reconnects the long distance, the plans are not automatically reactivated, and the customer needs to notify the long-distance company that he has the service again so that the plans can be put back on the account.
This is the responsibility of the customer because the local phone company does not have the authority to reactivate plans, and plans the customer had previously may not fit his needs any longer.
By the Federal Communications Act of 1996, if the services are provided by the same company, the customer must still mention all services relating to his account. This is so that the companies are not taking advantage of information that is not being provided to the competitors of said company.
What this really boils down to is that consumers have to play it smart. The telecommunications industry is constantly changing, and unfortunately, we have to make ourselves aware of the changes. Mr. Kuttner also states that the long distance companies are selling the same product -- dial tone. Nope! The local telephone companies are the ones that sell the dial tone.