Starting next month, subscribers to Cellular One's bargain-basement consumer calling plan are going to have to get used to higher rates and fewer hours in which to make calls.
According to a letter sent to subscribers of Cellular One's old evening plan, dubbed the "F" plan in Cellular One parlance, monthly rates will increase June 1 from $11.95 to $16.95, a 40 percent increase.
At the same time, prime calling hours are being extended by two hours. That's going to lop two hours a day out of the F plan, which was designed to encourage consumers to make calls during the cheaper "off-peak" hours.
Under the old plan, subscribers could place calls for free or at greatly reduced prices from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Starting June 1, off-peak hours for F plan subscribers will run from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The new plan will continue to offer 150 free minutes of calls a month during off-peak hours. And additional calls will continue to be charged at a rate of 65 cents a minute during peak hours and 15 cents a minute during off-peak hours.
The new hours, as well as a number of other calling plans, went into effect May 1 for all other Cellular One customers. They are part of the company's plan for streamlining its offerings, said Tim Morrisey, president and general manager of Cellular One in Greenbelt.
"We've cut back two hours to keep pace with the marketplace," Mr. Morrisey said. "Competitors have had those same hours for a long time."
Mr. Morrisey also noted that Cellular One is offering a consolation prize to bargain-hunters in the form of its new "After Hours Package."
The new service, introduced May 1, features unlimited calling during evenings and weekends for $19.95. The plan's cheap rates are in effect from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., giving subscribers an extra hour of non-prime time calling.
Still, that may not be enough to console customers who signed up for the old service with a budget in mind. Likewise, people who developed their cellular telephone habits around the old calling hours may feel the pinch.
That would include people like William P. Bartlett of Annapolis, whosaid he signed up for Cellular One's old evening plan basically because it was cheap.
After receiving his notification letter from Cellular One this week, Mr. Bartlett said he's doing some soul-searching on the need to even usecellular service.
"I use my cellular phone for personal use. To me, it's a toy," said Mr. Bartlett, who lives in Annapolis and commutes to Glen Burnie to work. "I use it mostly between the hours of 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. So, for me, it's a toy I'm going to have to do without as a result of the rate hike."
Cellular One's only other competitor in the Baltimore-Washington cellular market is Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems (BAMS), a division of Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic Corp. BAMS' evening plan costs $14.95 and includes 200 minutes of free off-peak calls a month. BAMS' prime calling hours run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the same as Cellular One's.
Herschel Schosteck, a cellular consultant, said he's not surprised by Cellular One's marketing revisions.
"They've had an acute attack of economic sanity," said Mr. Schosteck, president of Herschel Schosteck & Associates in Silver Spring, a cellular consultancy firm.
According to Mr. Schosteck, individual customers don't generate the revenues business customers do. By phasing out or consolidating consumer plans, he said, cellular companies can boost usage during the expensive peak operating hours, when margins are fattest and returns are greatest.
"Carriers that push that [consumer] market are guaranteed to lose money," Mr. Schosteck said.
Calling plan rates
The chart compares Cellular One's rates for its old and new calling plans with Bell Atlantic Mobile's rates for its evening calling plan.
NTC .... .... .... ....Cellular One.... .... .... .... Bell Atlantic Mobil
.... .... ...Old plan.... ... ...New plan
Price.. .... ...$11.95...... ... ...$16.95.... ..... $14.95
Hours.. .... ...7 p.m.-7 a.m. .. ...9 p.m.-7 a.m.... 9 p.m.-7 a.m.
Free minutes ...150 non-prime... ...same.... ....... 200 non-peak
Prime time.. ...65 cents per min....same.... ....... 65 cents per min.
Add. non-prime..15 cents per min....same.... ....... 15 cents per min.