Noted in brief

November 15, 1997

THE QUARTER PAY phone call now joins the dime cup of coffee and the full-sized spare tire in the pantheon of mundane things folks once expected would always exist.

It should have come as no surprise that the price of a call from a pay phone would rise following deregulation of the telecommunications industry; some people who hadn't used a pay phone in years might have been surprised a call from one was still 25 cents.

Nevertheless, when Bell Atlantic followed the lead of smaller competitors and raised the price from 25 to 35 cents in the southern portion of its market, the move made headline news. It translated more as a psychological jolt than as an economic one.

Having to root around for that extra dime to make a call further erodes the sense of a phone booth as a safe haven, a St. Bernard in the tundra, a means to get quick help in an emergency.

That's probably an antiquated view in that pay phones are more often used to conduct business, and that mobile cell phones have gone the old phone booth one better for accessibility. But for many of us, a phone booth still resonates with a sense of security.

While the 40 percent rise in price is lamentable, consumers can't have it both ways: If they relish the benefits that flow when phone companies are forced to behave as a competitive businesses, they can't expect them to continue to behave as a public utility.

Bell ain't your "Ma" anymore.

***

THE "HEIDI BOWL" is one of the more famous -- or infamous -- events in professional football history.

In 1968, NBC-TV executives blacked out the final minutes of a close game that was running late between Joe Namath's New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to air a children's program, "Heidi," scheduled at that hour.

Many parents -- read: mothers -- were happy that their calls of complaint had been answered, but thousands of viewers were aggrieved at missing the cliff-hanger finish.

Amazingly, 30 years later, football fans with elephant memories still hold a grudge.

All of that is forgotten, however, in the executive suite at WMAR-TV in Baltimore.

Rather than air a "Wonderful World of Disney" special last Sunday night, the station offered an hour's preview of the Ravens-Steelers football game, including a "telethon" to sell seats at the new Ravens stadium.

For families who have welcomed the return of the Disney specials as an excuse to gather around the television hearth on a Sunday evening, as households did years ago, the pre-emption for the pre-game yak-yak was more than a little unfortunate.

Happily the "friends you can turn to" at Channel 2 didn't have to make that choice a week earlier when Disney aired its $12 million remake of "Cinderella."

Last Sunday's game won't go down as "Heidi Bowl II," though. With the final score 37-0 for the Steelers -- a loss the Ravens owner dubbed an embarrassment -- it was a bowl of a different sort.

***

BUYER BEWARE isn't always possible, some retirement plan consultants are warning as they speak in favor of full disclosure of fees being charged to 401(k) plans.

"Participants think they are getting a fund at a normal management fee, and then they find out they are paying" as much as 1.5 percentage points more, one consultant said at a recent hearing in Washington.

Some industry officials are balking at the proposal, claiming sufficient information is already available.

Many of the the nation's 25 million participants in 401(k) retirement plans would disagree.

No one wants to impose unduly burdensome requirements -- just uniform standards for disclosure of charges that would provide the information that is necessary for a fair comparison of 401(k) investment options.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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