A survey of local long-distance charges may force the telephone company to offer an optional calling plan for Perry residents.
Perry -- When parents send their children off to school here, some of the children are carrying telephone calling cards in case they have to call home.
Perry Middle School Principal Bill Wealthall said the school encourages children who live outside of Perry to carry to the cards for non-emergency calls. That's because the calls to their homes, unless they live in Perry, are likely to incur long-distance charges.
Students in the consolidated Perry-Lecompton school district don't travel far to Perry to attend the middle school. From Perry to Lecompton is about three miles. It's a long-distance call. Perry to Grantville is about 10 miles. It's also a long-distance call.
Wealthall loans his cell phone to students who have to call home after an event for a ride or after staying late at school. He's on a calling plan with a certain number of pre-paid minutes per month. He never uses them all. If he doesn't use them, he loses them.
"I would guess over half of them have to make a long-distance call," Wealthall said. "Or parents have to make a long-distance call to the school."
Earl Silvers, who retired as a street supervisor for the city of Lawrence, is a part-time farmer in rural Jefferson County. He's heading up a petition drive to try get an optional calling plan provided for Perry residents to lower their calling costs.
He estimates that he spends more on local long-distance calls than he does in state-to-state long-distance.
The petition was mailed Friday to Sprint Enterprises, which is the local phone service provider in Perry. Sprint became the local service provider when it bought United Telephone. Sprint gained control over the local service area, which is limited to Perry.
A total of 384 people in the 597 prefix signed the petition. The petition requires Sprint to undertake a traffic survey of long-distance use in the Perry area, Silvers said.
The traffic survey will be done over three months. Sprint will examine the local long-distance use in October, November and December.
If in two months of that three-month period, 51 percent of the residences make at least $5 worth of local long-distance calls, then Sprint can offer an optional calling plan, which would offer lower local long-distance rates to residences in Perry.
"The main reason we're doing this is the school district," Silver said. "We want to free our kids from calling long-distance."
This is the third time a traffic survey has been requested by residents in the Perry area. The last one, done 16 months ago, Silvers said, showed 36 percent of the residents using local long-distance.
The traffic survey may be further hampered by the state of local long-distance service nationally, said Tom Behner, assistant chief of telecommunications for the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities in the state.
Phone companies compete for long-distance service. With 10-10 services and other local long-distance plans, Sprint "may not be able to count all the calls" in the survey, Behner said.
Messages left with Sprint for comment about the matter went unanswered.
Many small communities in Kansas are in a similar situation, Behner said.
"This is one of the biggest issues before the commission," he said.
-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is email@example.com.