American Telephone & Telegraph Co. said yesterday that it has been charging some consumers for its discount calling services -- even though some of those customers switched to other long-distance companies more than a year ago.
AT&T said it will offer credits to consumers who have paid, or are still paying, for unused subscriptions to its "Reach Out" family of discount, flat-rate calling plans. Subscription fees to those basic plans cost as much as $12 a month. AT&T's "Reach Out Maryland" plan costs $6.70 a month. Optional services can push those monthly fees higher.
AT&T declined to say how many customers were affected or how much consumers had been overcharged.
Rival MCI Communications Corp., the No. 2 long-distance company, accused AT&T of using its Reach Out plans to take "hundreds of thousands of customers" for millions of dollars in overcharges.
According to AT&T, some customers continued to be charged a Reach Out subscription fee after the service was dropped because they didn't let AT&T know of their intention to cancel. That's because the Reach Out service agreement requires customers to notify AT&T -- either verbally or in writing -- when they decide to drop the service.
But according to AT&T, a lot of people haven't been doing that.
The upshot, said Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman, is that a lot of consumers who thought they had dropped out of AT&T's Reach Out plan because they had switched long-distance companies, haven't.
Since becoming aware of the problem more than a year ago, AT&T has taken steps to remind consumers of their obligation. But after a lot of people failed to respond, AT&T decided that it needed to take more "aggressive steps" to get the word out, Mr. Siegel said.
Toward that end, AT&T plans to launch a full-scale campaign to contact customers who have switched to other carriers to verify that they want to cancel their AT&T calling plans. Consumers will be advised to call AT&T to resolve claims. Credits will be issued by local phone companies on regular monthly bills.
AT&T said that it also plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission for permission to modify its Reach Out plans so that consumers don't have to notify the carrier personally when canceling service. The change will allow AT&T to discontinue subscriptions of consumers who switch to other long-distance companies and don't use their AT&T calling plans for 90 days.