September 19, 2019

Mainers missing out on phone savings> Customers must switch calling plans to reap lower long-distance rates

Many Mainers are missing out on newly lowered rates for in-state long-distance calls because they haven’t bothered to change calling plans, according to the state Public Advocate’s Office.

A 1997 state law lowered Bell Atlantic’s access fees — paid by long-distance carriers for the use of its phone lines — from 23 cents a minute to 5 cents a minute.

Many plans are available that pass the savings along to consumers, said Wayne Jortner, staff attorney at the Public Advocate’s Office.

Now it’s up to customers to choose one, he said.

“I have strong suspicions that a vast majority of people in Maine have never switched,” he said. “If you never made a switch and you’re paying Bell Atlantic’s normal rates, it’s 45 cents for the first minute and 32 cents a minute after that.”

“Bell Atlantic won’t tell me how many people have switched,” he said.

He guessed that 70 percent of Mainers had not switched, partly out of confusion over which plan would be best for them.

AT&Ts “One Rate Plus” plan is an example. It offers calls at 8 cents a minute in-state, 10 cents out of state. But its $4.95 monthly fee could eat up any savings if a consumer doesn’t make many long-distance in-state calls at the 8-cent bargain rate.

A Sprint plan might be better for someone who makes more out-of-state calls: It charges 10 cents a minute for both in-state and out-of-state calls, with no monthly fee for those who spend $30 a month on long-distance calls.

Bell Atlantic offers a plan that is better than its standard rates, the “Sensible Minute Plan,” which charges 15 cents a minute.

“But you have to call Bell Atlantic and ask for it,” Jortner said. “Otherwise you’ll have to pay their flat fee.”

Jortner’s office has published a guide for consumers to spread the word about ways to save on in-state, long-distance calls.

All 6,300 copies of the latest edition of “Ratewatchers In-State Phone Guide” were gone after being published last month, Jortner said.

The Public Advocate’s Office is doing a second printing of 2,500.

“People are confused about phone rates,” he said.

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