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Home Computer Users Campaign Against Higher Phone Fees

September 23, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Home computer users have marshalled their high-tech forces to flood Federal Communications Commission and congressional offices with thousands of letters opposing an FCC proposal that could double their telephone fees, officials said Wednesday.

The three-month campaign has spread its word electronically through computer networks and produced roughly 4,200 letters sent to the FCC and more than 3,000 letters sent to Capitol Hill, according to officials at the agency and congressional offices.

″We felt it was an issue of great enough concern to us and our subscribers that using the technology we have on hand would be a good way to communicate our concerns,″ said David Kishler, a spokesman for CompuServe, a Columbus, Ohio-based information service whose 360,000 subscribers make it the largest provider.

CompuServe and other information services have been using their networks to inform subscribers about the proposal and give the names and addresses of FCC officials and members of Congress to whom they can send letters opposing it.

″There has been no other issue that has so galvanized the information industry as this one has,″ said Tom Oberlin, spokesman for Vienna, Va.-based Quantum Computer Services, whose service is called QuantumLink.

The proposal also has met resistance from the Reagan administration and on Capitol Hill.

On Monday evening, the campaign succeeded in bringing an FCC attorney onto the computer-users’ turf to explain electronically, computer-to-computer, its rationale for proposing to levy an access charge on computer networks and information services, which would be passed along to users.

Attorney Ruth Milkman, sitting at a computer terminal connected to The Source, a McLean, Va.-based information service, fielded questions from about 30 home-computer users also connected to the service.

″There is a certain amount of misinformation floating around,″ she said. ″It’s a more efficient way of answering questions.″

Computer users say the FCC’s proposal could add about $5 an hour to the cost of hooking up to data bases that provide such features as news stories, financial information, airline schedules, games like chess and bridge, and social messaging or chat services.

For a low-priced service like QuantumLink, the additional charge would more than double its hourly rate of $3.60, Oberlin said.

The FCC said the access fee is aimed at making information providers pay their share of the cost of the telephone network. Similar access charges based on usage currently are paid by long-distance companies and passed along to callers to subsidize the cost of the local phone network.

The Reagan administration agency that develops communications policy says the industry would be hurt by the higher fees and adds that the United States has taken the position with foreign countries that computer information networks should be charged differently from conventional telephone services.

In a statement, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said he is concerned that increased costs ″will strangle the development of this valuable emerging technology.″

He said he was particularly concerned that residential and non-profit information service users like libraries and hospitals would not be able to absorb the higher costs.

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