Phone company errs on late fee Bell falsely charged thousands in Md. for paying phone bill late

March 09, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

An embarrassed Bell Atlantic Corp. will be making apology calls to up to 45,000 Maryland and District of Columbia customers who were charged a late fee after the company failed to credit their February bill payments.

Michel Daley, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, confirmed reports from customers yesterday that the Philadelphia-based telephone company had wrongly added the 1.5 percent lateness penalty to the bills of some customers who actually paid their bills on time.

Mr. Daley said the company did not know as of yesterday how much money was involved or how many customers were affected by the foul-up except that 45,000 was the maximum. He blamed the snafu on a computer programming error that "temporarily lost" data.

The spokesman said the company will credit the accounts of each customer whose payments were mis-recorded and that the late charges will be voided.

"We intend to contact each and every customer who was affected to explain what happened," Mr. Daley said.

The state Public Service Commission voted Jan. 3 to authorize the phone company to impose the late fee. February's bills were the first to include the penalty charges, Mr. Daley said.

The billing blunder led to a surge in calls to Bell Atlantic business offices, making it difficult for customers to get through.

Susan Webber of Ellicott City said the company's automated response system was "busy, busy, busy all day long" when she called Tuesday to complain that the payment she sent Feb. 12 had not been credited on her Feb. 23 bill.

"Every time I pressed 0, I'd get the recording saying that all of our operators were busy," said Ms. Webber, who added that she has a canceled check showing that Bell Atlantic deposited the money Feb. 13. She finally was able to get the $1.81 late fee removed from her account.

Paula Houck, of Reisterstown, said she had a "horrible" experience when she called Bell Atlantic last weekend. She said a "rude" customer service representative told her that her Feb. 13 payment had not been credited until March 1.

But Ms. Houck said that even when she explained that she had a canceled check showing her payment was deposited Feb. 14, the service representative treated the matter as if it were her fault.

"She wouldn't remove it and she didn't indicate it would be," said Ms. Houck. She said the service representative agreed only to note Ms. Houck's request for a credit.

Mr. Daley said there were some "logistical problems" in programming the company's computers to issue automatic credits. He said Bell Atlantic has a team working on a solution to the problem. "You've got to put this in perspective. We process over 13 million payments each month," he said.

Mr. Daley, the phone company spokesman, said the most serious problems affected payments processed Feb. 13 and that there were some less serious delays in posting payments that came in from banks and other collection agents Feb. 26-28.

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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