Archive for Friday, June 12, 1998

LONG-DISTANCE RATES

June 12, 1998

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— Jefferson County officials and residents are growing tired of long-distance telephone charges for calls to what essentially are their neighbors.

Many people here and elsewhere in Jefferson County are complaining about their phone bills.

It seems every call they make, in some instances to very near neighbors, involves a long-distance charge. They're beginning to organize and squawk, wanting the phone company and state regulators to hear their complaints.

``It's just bizarre,'' said Debbie Nickels, administrator for Jefferson County Health Department, ``that anywhere you call in the county is long distance.''

The health department is just one of about 50 government and non-profit service agencies joining in complaint about the phones. Officials say Jefferson County residents are paying double tolls: First when they dial, and again when they pay taxes that help schools, courts and other public service agencies pay their needlessly big telephone bills.

Not only are too many calls long distance here, agency spokesmen complain, but they are the most expensive sort of long-distance calls: those made within the same area code.

``Our phone bill is a big part of our budget,'' said Lynn Luck of Jefferson County Service Organization, which aids senior citizens. ``It's more expensive to call McLouth than it is to call Florida.''

McLouth is six miles from Oskaloosa and a place Luck's agency can't avoid calling frequently.

``Across the road, many places in this county, is long distance,'' Luck said.

Sprint provides the local phone service in Jefferson County and could treat the entire county as a local calling area, if that is what it wanted to do, said a spokesman for the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state agency that regulates phone service.

``The phone company can do it, if they choose to do it,'' said Rosemary Foreman of KCC.

The Journal-World attempted to contact various Sprint spokesmen, but none were immediately available to be interviewed.

The company did respond, however, to a recent letter from State Sen. Don Biggs, the Leavenworth Democrat whose district includes the county. He relayed concerns about the phone service spelled out by the Jefferson County Alliance of Service Councils, an umbrella organization for various Jefferson County government offices and service groups.

``As you are aware, this is a very complex issue,'' responded Carolyn Gaston, the company's public affairs manager in a letter dated June 8. ``We have several options available ... that may provide relief in the cost of their local long-distance calling.''

But Jefferson County officials say the options, which mostly involve discount calling plans, are inadequate.

``We're already in a discount plan,'' said Nickels of the health department. ``We have the cheapest long-distance coverage we can possibly get. It's a Brand X company. I look at that all time.''

Even with the plan, Nickels said, the agency's phone bill last month was 19 pages thick. The long distance portion averages $420 per month, she said, 60 percent of which would vanish if all calls within the county were billed as local.

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is mshields@ljworld.com.

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