FCC Amends Order on Payphone Fees

Professional truckers who own a personal toll-free number could be in line for refunds on the exorbitant surcharge that 800 subscribers have been paying since October 1997 on calls made from a payphone. The Federal Communications Commission recently announced a decrease of its mandated compensation rate from 28.4 cents per call to 24 cents.

For more than a year, affected parties and members of a consumer-business alliance called the Coalition for Fair Payphone-800 Fees (which includes OOIDA) have been involved in an intense legal challenge of the original order. On remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the FCC adopted a new order on Jan. 28, 1999. In the new order, the FCC strongly urged (but did not require), long distance companies to pass the overpayments back to their 800-line subscriber customers. The new order takes effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. OOIDA suggests that its members that are 800 subscribers immediately calculate the amount paid in excess of the new 24 cent rate and begin pressing their long distance provider for a refund. These refunds amount to 15 percent of the surcharge amount from October 1997 to the present.

In the new order, the FCC resolved compensation issues for so-called "dial-around" calls, which allows a consumer to use a long distance carrier other than the payphone's presubscribed carrier. Dial-around calls include long distance access code calls, such as those using the familiar 10-10-XXX codes, as well as calls to toll-free numbers. Under the prior order, after October 1999, the dial-around rate would have tracked the coin rate less 6.6 cents, meaning if the coin rate was increased to 50 cents, the dial-around surcharge would have automatically gone up for that phone to 43.3 cents per call. The new order will deter the payphone owners from inflating the coin rate by setting the 24 cents per call that long distance companies must pay to owners of payphones for delivery of these calls and freezing the 24 cent rate at its current level.