Extra phone line fee going up One-number homes facing no increase

January 01, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Starting today, you may find yourself paying more for your phone lines.

With the coming of the new year, the major phone companies -- including Bell Atlantic Corp., AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp., Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc. -- are charging customers new monthly fees.

Bell Atlantic customers will still pay a $3.50-per-month subscriber line charge for their first, or primary, phone line. However, additional residential lines will now cost $5 per month, up from $3.50. Businesses will have to pay $7.50 per month for each additional line, up from $6.

These charges will show up on your Bell Atlantic bill. John Bonomo, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said the company is implementing the new charges under rules laid down by the Federal Communications Commission.

"If you have only one line, this doesn't impact you," he said.

In industry parlance, a "line" refers to each phone number, not to each telephone. In other words, a home with only one phone number has only one phone line, even if there are four or five phones serving that single number.

Additional phone lines in homes have become increasingly common as residential fax and computer-modem use has risen. However, multiple-line homes are still in the minority. Bonomo said about 30 percent of homes in the Bell Atlantic region, which stretches from Maine to Virginia, have multiple lines.

Bell Atlantic isn't the only phone company ringing in the new year with new line fees. The FCC is now mandating that long-distance companies pay $1.50 a month a line for residential nonprimary lines and $2.75 a line for businesses that have more than one line.

Glenn Reynolds, a legal adviser at the FCC, said these charges compensate for earlier reductions in the access charges the companies had to pay in order to provide service.

"The net effect is that long-distance companies aren't paying anything now that they weren't paying before," he said.

The long-distance companies see the matter a bit differently, and most are passing along the costs.

"This is a cost the FCC has imposed, so we're passing it on directly to the customers who cause us to incur that cost," said AT&T spokesman Wayne Jackson.

AT&T, the king of long-distance service, is levying no new fees for a residential customer's primary phone line. However, it is introducing a "carrier line charge" of $1.50 per month for every additional line a customer has.

Jackson said AT&T's new line charges apply only to residential customers. Businesses that use AT&T already pay a line charge, said.

The No. 2 long-distance company, MCI, is also implementing line fees for the new year.

MCI spokeswoman Jamie DePeau said businesses must now pay $2.75 per month for each phone line, while residences will pay $1.07.

rTC These charges, DePeau said, will apply to all lines, not just nonprimary ones. She said this is because "we do not have the ability to identify multiple-line customers."

WorldCom, the up-and-coming long-distance company that is seeking to take over MCI, is also imposing new line fees today: 53 cents per line for residential customers and $2.75 for businesses. As with MCI, these charges cover primary as well as additional lines.

Sprint is not planning to charge its residential customers for additional lines. For business customers whose bills are less than $15 a month, Sprint will charge $6 if they have additional lines. For customers with bigger monthly bills, Sprint will impose no charge for additional lines.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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