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Bell's new year's resolution: hiking optional phone rates.

If you have optional telephone service such as call waiting, get ready to pay more starting December 31.

Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. filed the rate increases in November with the Arkansas Public Service Commission. The rates, since they are optional, do not have to be approved by the commission.

Under the Telecommunications Regulation and Reform Act approved. by the state Legislature earlier this year, Southwestern Bell can increase rates on optional services with as little as one day's warning. The law forbids a rate increase on basic local telephone service by Bell for three years.

Art Stuenkel, a staff lawyer for the PSC, says if the rates had been proposed last year, PSC would have had to approve the increases.

The rate increases affect call waiting, call forwarding, auto redial and call return for residential and business customers.

Beginning Dec. 31, the charge for residential and business call waiting will be $5.25 a month. For residential customers, that's a $1 hike; for businesses, the new charge is up 75 cents, from $4.50. The increases affect businesses that have call waiting as a primary optional feature.

Call forwarding is increasing 75 cents to $3.75 a month.

For auto redial and call return, the price is going up to 75 cents per use from 50 cents per use. The cap on the service is $6 a month. The current monthly cap is $4 at 50 cents a call.

Mack McCoy, general manager for consumer sales for Southwestern Bell Arkansas, says the increases were made in response to competitive pressures and based on perceived customer value.

"On call waiting, the perceived value from studies we've done show that most customers think it's a higher value than what it costs," he says.

The last time prices for optional services were increased was three years ago, he says.

The monthly cost for personalized ring decreases Dec. 31.

For residential customers, the monthly charge on the first personalized ring will be $3, a $1 drop. For businesses, the charge decreases to $6, down $1.

The price for a second personalized ring will remain $2 for residential customers and $3 a month for business customers.

McCoy says a package of residential options called "Basics" will remain the same after Dec. 31, $14.25.

However, customers who make an intra-LATA telephone call will receive 10 percent off their long-distance charges, he says. Arkansas is broken into three primary LATAs (See map).

The residential basics package comes with call blocker, call return, call waiting, caller identification, and one of the following: auto redial, call forwarding, three calling or speed-dialing.

By itself, caller identification is $7.95 a month, plus a one-time charge of $10 for installation.

Another residential package for $18.95 a month is called "The Works," which includes 12 of the company's optional services, he says. "Most of the customers in Arkansas will not have any price change on call waiting," McCoy says. "There's no increase in the Basics or the Works packages."

Those two packages are how most residential customers get call waiting, he says.

"We reduced the price of personalized ring to try to promote additional sales of the product," McCoy says. "It's a competitive environment and getting more competitive every day. We will have price changes on a fairly regular basis. It's a fairly common thing and will become more common.

"We try to be attuned to the market," McCoy says. "We want to price services so that customers feel they are paying what the services are worth."
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Title Annotation:Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.
Author:Lee, Simon
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 22, 1997
Words:587
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