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MCI Accused of Excessive Rates

June 9, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ MCI is charging excessive rates to a small group of customers including people dropped from the phone company’s billing data base, a telecommunications law firm contends in a complaint filed Tuesday with federal regulators.

The law firm asked the Federal Communications Commission to order MCI to stop charging the rates and pay refunds to those affected.

At issue is a class of ``casual″ customers. These are people who, for various reasons, are dropped from the phone company’s billing system. Once that happens, people who make long-distance calls are charged the company’s highest rate.

MCI’s casual customers pay a $2.49 surcharge on each call made and 38 cents a minute for each call, said MCI spokesman Brad Burns.

``These rates should be found unlawful,″ the law firm of Halprin, Temple, Goodman & Sugrue said in the filing.

Burns wouldn’t say how many of these customers the company has, but said they fall primarily into two categories: People who have not selected MCI as their primary long-distance company but use it occasionally by dialing an access code; and customers who have a pattern of not paying their bills. In such cases, MCI notifies those customers that they’ll be dropped from the company’s data base, Burns said.

``MCI’s casual billing practices are entirely lawful and follow the tariffing and other requirements established by the FCC,″ Burns said. Industrywide, casual customers account for 3 percent to 4 percent of all U.S. long-distance customers, Burns said.

MCI’s rates are not subject to FCC approval, but the commission has the power to ensure phone rates are ``just and reasonable.″

The law firm, in its complaint, said it was switched to MCI’s service without authorization and then was charged the high rate without its prior knowledge or consent. For example, the firm said it was charged $2.87 for a one-minute, long-distance call within the United States.

Burns said, ``One has to be skeptical at the motivation behind the ... complaint considering that they are lobbyists for Bell Atlantic Corp.,″ which is seeking to provide long-distance service in New York.

Kevin McGilly, speaking for the firm, said the complaint is unrelated to its work for Bell Atlantic.

Freedom Technologies Inc., a telecommunications consulting company owned by Albert Halprin and his wife, filed an identical complaint to the FCC. Halprin is a partner in the law firm.

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