AT&T Charges Up To Eight Minutes For A One-Minute Phone Call

AT&T is charging users of its prepaid calling cards up to eight minutes per minute spent making an in-state call. The practice began in February and affects in-state calls made from every state except Illinois, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

AT&T claims it is required by the FCC to pay the in-state connection fees set by each state. That would be nice, except according to an FCC spokesman, “Calling card rates aren’t regulated. Period.”

More AT&T doublespeak, after the jump…

(Photo: mrbill)


The Executive Director of the Missouri Public Service Commission echoed the FCC’s comment, saying: “The PSC does not regulate the prepaid (calling) cards.” Missouri has not regulated telecom rates “for several years,” and the PSC does not audit AT&T, since the telecom no longer needs state approval to raise rates.

AT&T adamantly insists, however, that the charges are not a rate increase, but a “reclassification.” In a sign of how far AT&T has wandered from the range, their billing practices have not been followed by either Sprint or Verizon; each charge their prepaid calling card users one minute per minute of in-state talk time.

The full list of charges from AT&T’s Prepaid Calling Card Terms and Conditions:

For calls that begin and end within the same state, minutes are deducted at the following rates per minute of talk time:
1 minute: DC, IL, IN, MA, RI, USVI;
3 minutes: AL, AR, CA, CT, DE, GA, HI, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MI, MS, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PR, SC, TN, UT, WI, WV;
5 minutes: AK, AZ, CO, FL, IA, ID, MN, MT, NC, NH, OK, PA, TX, VA, VT, WA, WY;
8 minutes: MO, ND, SD.

— CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

AT&T now charges eight minutes for one of these one-minute calls in Missouri [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Comments

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  1. timmus says:

    Of course this problem would fix itself if consumers would be smart enough to recognize the poor deal and stop buying AT&T cards.

  2. superlayne says:

    I wonder what the minutes are for out of state calls. 20 per minute?

  3. mantari says:

    So… after the merger, did the former executives of SBC take control of AT&T? This is regional telco thinking.

  4. courtarro says:

    That is absolutely absurd.

  5. Echomatrix says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. If your on the street it already costs a heck of a lot more to make a phone call. 50 cents vs asking to use a phone in a restaurant. Why should they change this practice? They wouldn’t recoupe that money if all you did was go across the street and bought a phone card instead. In fact 8 x 3 cents a min(i guess) and its still cheaper than 2 quarters.

  6. umonster says:

    @timmus: You’re blaming the victim. I think the point of this story is that this practice might not be transparent enough to consumers buying the cards to notice it. But the story wasn’t entirely clear on that, so I’m not sure. But I suspect that if these rates were actually printed on the card, nobody would buy them.

  7. ptkdude says:

    @mantari: Yes, they did. I’m an insider and we get a “retirement” notice just about everyday for yet another BellSouth exec who’s leaving “to spend more time with their family”. Their replacement is mysteriously always an SBC person.

  8. cp87 says:

    A reclassification of what? The minute?

  9. papuska says:

    For several years I’ve been purchasing pre-paid cards from Sam’s Club at the 3-cents-plus/minute rate. A few months ago I added minutes at a Sam’s Club. The first time I used the card after the update I heard a recording that said I had been using the card incorrectly. It was meant for inter-state calls but I had only used it for intra-state calls. The recording went on to say that the next time I added minutes I would be charged 11 cents for each minute (within Wisconsin). I checked the AT&T site and found this to be correct. Do you think your source might be referring to three units for Wisconsin? 3.7 x 3 = 11.1.

    There has never been any notification on the card that limited its use to out-of-state calls.

    I figured AT&T was mad that people were using their cards to avoid using a long-distance service.

  10. er6037 says:

    Just so everyone knows, my daughter is an at&t prepaid customer and this story is no where near accurate.

    • Anonymous says:

      @er6037: I am an AT&T prepaid consumer too. And, YES, this story is accurate. I had no problems up recently when I moved 300 miles away, but in the same state as my sister. When I used a pre-paid AT & T card to call her, the recording informed me that I had over 300 minutes. About 45 minutes later, my call was interrupted by a voice that told me I had only one minute of talk time left. I was charged 300 minutes for a call that did not even last an hour.

      I have subsequently ceased using AT & T calling cards. I changed internet service providers (I did use their DSL service) and as soon as my local cable company is equipped to provide me with a land line, I am switching that too.

      I have had it with AT&T’s poor, overpriced service. I also do not like their cocky, arrogant, “We are better than everybody else” attitude.

  11. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    I knew I’d seen that photo before (and not just yesterday when I was at the grocer and drove right by the building).

    http://consumerist.com/consumer/att/avoid-outsourced-csrs-

  12. ColoradoShark says:

    @:

  13. TalbotD says:

    ..well, there doesn’t seem to be any legal ‘Fraud’ by AT&T, just a little honest price-gouging buried in the fine print.

    Caveat Emptor.

    Did you ever use a hotel-room mini-bar or telephone …without checking the prices first ??

  14. ColoradoShark says:

    @er6037: OK, then what is the accurate story? We seriously want to know when someone spreads BS.

  15. homerjay says:

    @er6037: If you’re going to claim a rebuttal, can you at least provide us with some detail?

  16. mantari says:

    @er6037: AT&T PrePaid Phone Card Terms and Conditions — The terms and conditions, from AT&T itself, is hard to dispute, but I’m certainly willing to listen.

  17. kerry says:

    Perhaps er6037 mistook the prepaid calling card story for one about AT&T wireless prepaid service? Last I checked AT&T/Cingular don’t do minute buckets for prepaid wireless anymore, but just use a payer-per-minute, pay-per-text, pay-per-kb system, where the whole idea of buying minutes is out the window.

  18. shdwsclan says:

    Ha…AT&T calling cards are a joke….8 mins…or whatever…damn…thats TERRIBLE

    GO to any supermarket and get a no-name calling card that you’ve never heard of…you know….one of those international ones…..

    For $5 you have like over 10 hours of talk time….and over 3 hours overseas…

    For 5 dollars from att you have 8 minute of talk time when you call instate AND like 30 seconds international……wow….the sweet smell of monopoly and capitalism…

  19. ogman says:

    This is why their monopoly was broken up and why it never should have been allowed to re-form. People never learn!

  20. Buran says:

    Hmm, looks like this site all of a sudden likes St. Louis. I live there, so it’s cool with me, but it’s kinda weird… do I have a stalker?

  21. bhelverson says:

    When I applied for the phone tax rebate, I did notice that calling cards were not included – something about how the person purchasing the card wasn’t the original buyer and didn’t pay the tax. I only used the cards when I was changing LD carriers but I still felt a little screwed.

    Aside: I ended up with ECG (www.ecg1.com). No hassle, excellent customer service, and 2.5 cents per minute. Very satisfactory.

  22. MentalDisconnect says:

    Huh, looks like a New York minute is actually three minutes.

  23. The Bigger Unit says:

    I’m stunned that AT&T would try and rip people off.

    In other news, cellular phone companies enjoy making gobs of money.

  24. mikecolione says:

    @ er6037. This story is about prepaid calling cards, not prepaid cell phone service.

    @ kerry. Att/Cingular still provides the monthly prepaid service. Users get a bucket of minutes to use for a set fee; most of the big wireless companies have a similar offering.

  25. Jmarsh04 says:

    Does anyone know why they charge a “nine-minute connection fee” if you use a calling card from a payphone? I’m fairly certain the answer is, “because they can,” but that won’t stop me from asking anyway.

  26. ColoradoShark says:

    @Jmarsh04: Actually, that one is legit. The payphone people get cash for every call they connect even if you don’t drop any coins in the phone. Last time I heard it was about 35 cents.

  27. Check er6037′s other comments posted here on the consumerist. All telco articles and all in defense of telco.

  28. lakawak says:

    Holden…well, are you disputing that he is RIGHT? they clearly state the terms. Nothing shady about it.

  29. SexCpotatoes says:

    Are the terms printed on the card, that the minutes multiply magically munching your remaining balance maliciously at a rate of up to eight minutes per single minute used for in-state long distance calls.

    Another thing I didn’t understand, local toll. 7 cents a minute to reach a past GF that was further away than long-distance area when my long distance rate was 5 cents a minute… Bullshit!

    VOIP FTW!

  30. Hans-Mast says:

    I am sure that AT&T was deceptive in their advertising.

    However, I am an independent telecom agent and sell long distance service. I know that in-state calls are much, much more expensive on the wholesale market because of adverse capacity/supply and demand/competitive and regulatory conditions in SD, ND, and MO (8 minutes). Also, AK, AZ, CO, FL, IA, ID, MN, MT, NC, NH, OK, PA, TX, VA, VT, WA, and WY (5 minutes) are slightly more expensive than the norm. However, having CA, OH, and MI on the 3 minute list is absurd. They are the three states that have the cheapest wholesale in-state rates.

  31. Cary says:

    Within 24 hours of hearing that AT&T posted record profits I got a machine phone call that my DSL rate is going up 50%.

    Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this why they were broken up last time? No worries… I can always switch to… oh yea… monopoly.

    Me things we’ve gotten Bush-wacked yet again.

  32. er6037 says:

    @Holden Caulfield:

    I post on the telco stories because I used to work for one while I was in school, so it is a subject I know a great deal about. I post in defense of them because this website would rather simply bash a company for charging people for a rendered service than expalin to readers the terms and conditions of different companies so that they can make their own decision about who to do business with.

  33. asherchang says:

    Wow. Did they really think they could relegate blame to the FCC and not get called out on it?

    Especially since their competitors never did the same…

  34. papuska says:

    @er6037

    so what pre-paid calling card service do you recommend for in-state calls? I’m more than happy to comparison shop.

  35. BrakTalk says:

    @er6037

    Your clarification still doesn’t explain why your wealth of knowledge sheds no light on the subject at hand and by all appearences leaves you looking like you didn’t quite understand the article.

    It has nothing to do with comparison’s between different companies and their products but it describes what are arguably deceptive business practices and the backpedaling by AT&T’s public affairs folks. Consumerist.com provided sources for their information and names of people that they quoted.

    When you “defend” something, you usually provide verifiable information, which you didn’t do and the article did. That is perhaps why people are confused with your “defense”…if you can call it that.

  36. Its another classic case of a company stating that “Our hands are tied. The law made me do it.”

    Then when you check up on the law, there is no such law. Pussies. All of them.

    If you told me that you were just hustling me just because you can then I could respect your position. But all these excuses of “the patriot act” “the FCC requires me to” ect ect just exposes these companies for the cowards that they are. Hiding behind non-existent laws and all that.

  37. timd1969 says:

    It seems like there is a fairly simple work around to this problem for anyone who doesn’t live in Iowa. The “reclassified” rates apply to intra-state calls, but inter-state calls are presumably still charged at one minute per minute. If I were a pre-paid calling card user with AT&T minutes, I would use one of the Iowa based free conference calling lines to complete my in-state calls. This practice would turn the economics of AT&T’s new rate chart upside down on them and maybe force them to reconsider this absurd change.

  38. Echodork says:

    Y’know, I’m actually not so sure about this one. I did some time with AT&T in the 90s, and it was fairly common practice for the government to make AT&T play by different rules than everyone else. There was a lot of fallout from the monopoly dissolution in ’83, and AT&T used to face regulation that newer telcos didn’t have to deal with.

    I have no idea what kind of regulations are in place concerning prepaid cards, and I have no idea whether to call BS on AT&T in this case or not. However, history gives them precedent to make these kinds of claims.

  39. Triteon says:

    @Cary: The intense growth of SBC Communications (out of the former Southwestern Bell) was in the 1990′s following the acquisition of Ameritech and Pacific Telesis, plus the addition of SNET. Let’s not lay all the blame on the Bush administration, when the Clinton administration got the ball rolling.

    @Buran: You are not alone! Unfortuantely it’s articles like this that show we’re just as screwed up as the rest of the country.

  40. arkan says:

    I was at Sams Club yesterday and they had signs posted on all the registers at checkout warning people about the changes in AT&Ts prepaid phone cards, so it seems there was at least some truth to this… It didn’t go too much into detail and I didn’t look since I don’t use those cards, but after reading this I know that this is exactly what the signs were addressing.

  41. mac-phisto says:

    ppl still use calling cards for non-international calls? wow.

  42. kerry says:

    @mikecolione: Huh, when I went to look at it last Friday they seemed to only offer minute rates prepaid, not buckets of minutes. You could put $100 on the phone which would last a year before expiring, and pay for talk time, text, data, etc. for a dollar-based rate, not on a minute-deduction basis. Maybe that’s just what they were offering for my area, though.

  43. Trackback says:

    If you use AT&T prepaid calling cards, you might want to pay close attention to your account balance. It looks like the telecommunications juggernaut might be overcharging you for in-state calls to the tune of 8 minutes per 1 minute spent.

  44. TXmom says:

    I live in TX. If I use a payphone with the card, they charge me 35 minutes off the bat. 35! The card is 3 cents a minute, purchased from Sam’s. I also hate the stupid advertising I have to listen to before my call goes through. Now this?!!!

  45. TurgidDahlia says:

    y’know, America isn’t *that big*.

  46. djgrey says:

    mantari says:
    So… after the merger, did the former executives of SBC take control of AT&T? This is regional telco thinking.

    The company is SBC. They bought AT&T and just switched the name. At the time of the deal, SBC was worth $80 billion, they paid $22 billion (with debt) for AT&T

  47. Trackback says:

    It really would be nice to have a day go by when we don’t hear about yet another attempt by telcos to rip people off, usually either by exploiting some bad regulation or simply pretending that the fee is required by regulations.

  48. Runningdent says:

    A little off topic here, but I just got ripped off by AT&T prepaid international. Bought at Walmart, called the info number for instructions from Mexico. When in Mexico followed instructions and they wanted an additional pin number that did not come on the card. So the auto system stated I could just enter my credit card info to complete the call. I get home and find $130 worth of charges for three 5-10 minute calls. Not the $49 that I was quoted before leaving the states.
    The kicker is that there is no way to contact a human being through their customer service. Guess I will dispute it through the credit card.
    Any thoughts on other ways to proceed?

  49. bogidewd says:

    It is quite possible that it is caused by an FCC ruling… see this article:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PJR/is_28_2/ai_n61

    and

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmusa/is_200501/ai_n

    Also, AT&T’s T&C have change in the last year, take a look at the archive page here:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20060221011443/http://www.consu

    Yes I agree that AT&T should not be allowed to rebuild its monopoly, however, I live in an area where CenturyTel has a monopoly on all phone & cable services and they can pretty much charge what they feel like and I have no other choice. I can’t even get TDS to ‘compete’ with them as TDS says that CenturyTel’s area is ‘locked down’.

  50. tundramom7 says:

    I’ve been an AT & T prepaid calling card user for over 10 yrs. I didn’t have problems back than, but just recently I recharged my card with 2000 minutes and they only put in 100 minutes! Where’s my remaining 1900 minutes? Now, I don’t recharge my card anymore, cause I’m on a fixed budget and I can’t afford to be ripped off again! I emailed them couple times and even made phone calls, but they just gave me the run around and I don’t have time to make all the calls when they give me a new number to call. Even a friend of mine had the same problem, she recharged her card more than 2500 minutes, but she only got less than 500 minutes put to her card. I don’t think I’ll ever recharge or purchase anymore AT&T prepaid cards anymore.