Some Maryland customers of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. are getting a nasty surprise in this month's phone bill -- charges of six times the norm for some long-distance calls.
According to Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., a programming error in C&P's billing software caused 200,831 long-distance calls placed by Maryland residents to be billed at rates up to six times higher than usual.
C&P, which does billing for the long-distance companies, corrected the problem May 17. But by that time the programming error had already miscalculated the cost of almost half a million calls from Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Those miscalculations are showing up in this month's C&P phone bills.
Jeanine Smetana, a C&P spokeswoman, said that C&P already knows who was overcharged and plans to issue credits on next month's bill. The credits will be issued automatically. As a result, she said, it isn't necessary for customers to contact C&P about this month's long-distance billing errors.
But customers who don't want to wait a month for credit from C&P can elect to deduct the charges for the improperly billed calls from this month's payment, said Jim McGann, an AT&T spokesman.
Those calls will be charged at the correct rates in next month's bills, he said.
According to Mr. McGann, it is easy to single out miscalculated calls: Look in the column that lists the duration of long-distance calls. The errant calls are timed to a fraction of a minute, such as "5.2 minutes" or "14.1 minutes." Normal calls are billed by whole minutes.
C&P said billing errors were limited to some residential customers who subscribe to AT&T's discount calling plans, such as "Reach Out America."
Intrastate calls and customers of other long-distance carriers were not affected, C&P said.
Michel Daley, a C&P spokesman in Washington, said that 462,000 calls in the District, Virginia and Maryland were miscalculated before the programming error was caught.