If you're a customer of Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems and you've had your cellular phone reprogrammed to recognize the new 410 area code, better check your latest phone bill. Chances are, it's wrong.
The culprit, Bell Atlantic Mobile says, is a glitch in some of its billing software, which apparently can't keep charges straight for cellular phones that have been reprogrammed for the 410 area code. Many customers are being overcharged.
"Faulty bills are still going out," said Brian Wood, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic Mobile, the cellular arm of Bell Atlantic Corp. "It's going to take a while before we have it corrected."
At last count, he said, about 7,000 customers had brought their phones in to be reprogrammed. An additional 23,000 customers still must do so.
Mr. Wood said anyone who has had a phone converted is susceptible to the billing snafu.
Reprogrammings are continuing, although the software hasn't been fixed. Customers must reprogram their phones by November, when the use of 410 becomes mandatory.
Engineers for Bell Atlantic are trying to pinpoint the problem in the software, which was developed and installed last fall to cope with Maryland's area code change.
Meanwhile, the company is going through accounts that were reprogrammed and applying credits as required, he said.
Representatives of Bell Atlantic Mobile have started warning customers who bring their phones in for reprogramming to keep an eye on their bills, Mr. Wood said.
Bell Atlantic Mobile became aware of the problem a few weeks ago after customers complained, he said.
Tim Huber of Baltimore was one Bell Atlantic customer snagged by the billing snafu.
Mr. Huber's cellular plan gives him 60 minutes of peak and 60 minutes of off-peak usage for $43.95 a month, one of many calling plans offered by Bell Atlantic Mobile.
Mr. Huber took his phone to a mobile phone center in December to reprogram it for the 410 area code. When he got his bill last month, he noticed that the company charged him for exceeding his time limit.
The problem was that Mr. Huber hadn't exceeded the limit.
After he complained, Mr. Huber said, Bell Atlantic gave him a credit.
"I'm a happy camper because I didn't lose anything," Mr. Huber said. "But my concern is that this is being done to everyone."