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Paging Companies Boost Cost for Heavy Users

June 20, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Phone paging companies, their images bruised by drug dealers’ incessant use of beepers, are bopping those beeped the most.

Nynex said Monday it will join other companies in levying a surcharge on customers who use their beepers an inordinate number of times - often a tipoff they’re drug dealers.

″It’s part of an industry-wide reaction to the perception that the paging industry is tainted by the fact that a few bad guys are using pagers,″ said Michael Vernetti, spokesman for Telocator, a Washington-based trade association.

Dealers went high-tech a few years ago to meet the high demand for crack, authorities said. Now the beleaguered beeper has become a symbol of drug dealing, a piece of electronic jewelry.

When police make a bust, they often find guns, cash, drugs - and beepers.

″The pager is nothing but a tool, the same tool that can reach a doctor and help save a person’s life,″ said Don Kilcoyne, spokesman for Nynex Mobile Communications.

The companies can’t do much about those who buy or lease beepers, except make an identification and credit check. So they’re hitting drug dealers at the other end - the monthly bill, in the form of a surcharge.

″We feel it’s had a positive effect,″ said Chris Houpis, marketing director of Metromedia Paging Services, which has charged $1 per beep over 1,000 a month since last fall.

Metromedia said it will donate the surcharge to the Target Foundation, a Missouri-based drug-counseling organization. The amount won’t be known until later this year, Houpis said.

Starting Aug. 1, Nynex will charge 50 cents per beep over 500 a month and $1 for each over 1,000. AllCity Paging of Tarzana, Calif., also added a surcharge last year.

Long Island Telephone may have started the trend.

″Way back in ’87 our system was getting very crowded, we had very heavy usage - drug dealers, naturally,″ Rose Marie Marchiel, the company’s sales coordinator, said Monday. The company charged 15 cents for each beep over 350 a month.

″It did lighten it up again, to where the other customers weren’t getting busy signals,″ she said.

Police say regular drug customers call the dealer’s number and punch in their number. The dealer calls back and arrangements for a sale are made.

Mrs. Marchiel said customers would ″come in with 25 pounds of gold jewelry, the stereotype. We can’t accuse them of anything. We saw more and more, and their friends brought in friends.″

The company figures the surcharge eliminated about 35 percent of the ″problem users.″ Customers involved in law enforcement and public health and safety are exempted from the surcharge, she said.

Will it hurt the dealers?

″It might hurt some of the lower-level dealers, but not the higher-ups,″ said a New York City narcotics officer who spoke on the condition on anonymity. ″They just won’t pay their bill, and get another beeper.″

Beepers have been banned in schools in several major cities, including New York, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore, in an attempt to keep schoolchildren from being involved in drug sales. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., has introduced the Beeper Abuse Prevention Act, which would restrict access to pagers to those under 21.

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