In the Matter of CHARLES SPENCER WILLIAMS, COMPLAINANT v. PACIFIC TELEPHONE & TELEGRAPH CO., DEFENDANT
43 F.C.C.2d 630
RELEASE-NUMBER: FCC 73-1101
October 31, 1973 Released
Adopted October 25, 1973
BY THE COMMISSION: COMMISSIONER ROBERT E. LEE ABSENT; COMMISSIONER JOHNSON CONCURRING AND ISSUING A STATEMENT; COMMISSIONER REID CONCURRING IN THE RESULT.
[*630] 1. The Commission has before it for consideration a formal complaint filed under Section 208 of the Act on May 31, 1973 by Mr. Charles Spencer Williams (hereinafter "Complainant") of Los Angeles, California against The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company of San Francisco (hereinafter "Pacific"). Complainant's prior informal complaint concerning this same matter was not resolved to his satisfaction. Complainant contends that he was overcharged by Pacific for a direct dialed telephone call which he placed to Vancouver, British Columbia. Complainant states that the call in question was placed at 11:59 p.m. on December 10, 1972, that the call lasted 51 minutes, and that Pacific erroneously billed him in accordance with the Night and Sunday rates generally applicable for direct dialed calls established between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., i.e., $1.50 for the first 3 minutes plus $0.45 per additional minute rather than the exceptional Late Night rates that apply between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 6:00 a.m., i.e., $1.50 for the first 3 minutes plus $0.30 per additional minutes. Complainant requests a refund of $7.20. Pacific contends in its responsive pleading that it applied the appropriate rate to the call in question. Specifically, Pacific alleges that Section 3.2(C)(4)(a) of AT&T's Tariff F.C.C. No. 263 expressly provides that the time when the connection "is established" determines which rates apply, and that in cases where telephone calls begin in one rate period and end in another rate period the rate in effect at the time when the connection is established applies. Therefore, Pacific alleges that since the connection for the call in question was established before 12:00 midnight (11:59 p.m.) Pacific applied the proper rate. Pacific requests that the complaint be dismissed.
2. We conclude that the call in question was properly rated by Pacific in accordance with Section 3.2(C)(4)(a) of AT&T's Tariff F.C.C. No. 263. [*631] This tariff provision states that the time the connection "is established" determines the relevant period for rating a call. This provision is binding upon Pacific and Complainant alike until changed.
3. However, complaint claims that neither the carrier's operators nor its telephone directories inform customers that all charges are computed at the rate in effect at the time when the connection is established. In our letter of August 23, 1973, we requested Pacific to submit additional information regarding this aspect of complaint's claims. Pacific responded on September 14, 1973 and stated that "[the] telephone directory does not explain that charges are computed at the rate in effect at the time when connection is established" and that "[telephone] operators do not normally provide this information either, although they will provide it if questioned on the subject." Pacific stated further that "[our] experience has not indicated a misunderstanding on the part of customers generally on this point." Notwithstanding Pacific's view that customers generally are not confused regarding how the applicable rate period is determined, it is our view that Pacific's present practices in this regard should be clarified to militate against any such confusion. The precise time when computation of charges begins and which rating period applies thereto are fundamental to the billing process and any practice of the carrier which may tend to cause confusion on this subject should be corrected. Accordingly, we shall direct that Pacific take appropriate steps, such as by bill inserts or by publishing appropriate clarifying language in the telephone directories, to insure that confusion will not exist on this subject in the future.
4. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED, That Pacific shall initiate appropriate measures to eliminate customer confusion regarding how the applicable rate period is determined.
5. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, That Pacific shall, within 30 days from the release date hereof, advise the Commission in writing as to the specific steps it proposes to take to comply with our order herein and shall thereafter achieve such compliance in the form and manner required by the Chief, Common Carrier Bureau.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, VINCENT J. MULLINS, Secretary.
CONCURRING STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER NICHOLAS JOHNSON
As the phone company spends millions of our dollars in advertising to tell us, it costs less to make long distance calls after 5:00 P.M. It costs less still to call after midnight. Not, however, as it turned out for Charles Spencer Williams.
Mr. Williams spoke by long distance from 12:00 to 12:50 A.M. one morning, but was shocked to find himself billed at the pre-midnight rate -- $7.20 more than the after midnight rate. This came about because Mr. Williams -- whether through carelessness, a faulty timepiece, or a desire to create a test case is not clear -- began speaking at 11:59 P.M.
[*632] Administrative necessity requires some easily applicable rule for dealing with this situation. One-half of the cost of long distance calls actually represents the costs of billing people for calls -- a good argument for the flat-rate national telephone service. If the phone company also got into computing the proportionate rates for each call, based on when it began and ended, no one would gain but the computer manufacturers and operators who would have a few million more computations to make.
But the fact that the pertinent provisions of this tariff were not clearly announced to the public by Pacific Telephone is a serious defect, and the occasion for my merely concurring in the majority's opinion.
It seems to me truly incredible that Pacific Telephone has to be ordered by this Commission to "initiate appropriate measures to eliminate customer confusion regarding how the applicable rate period is determined" and equally incredible that such steps have not been taken by Pacific Telephone before now! Pacific Telephone has the statutory obligation to operate its common carrier business in the public interest, and yet Charles Spencer Williams -- and millions like him -- are unable to obtain basic rate period information which anyone would deem vital to the intelligent use of the telephone.
Even though today's action will not aid Mr. Williams in recovering his $7.20, it must be recognized that but for this $7.20 complaint, other Pacific Telephone customers would have been victims of an unannounced rate period computation practice. Hopefully today's decision will be adequate to insure that others will not be parted from their money needlessly without adequate notice from the local telephone monopoly. Under the circumstances, I can bring myself to no more than a reluctant concurrence in this result.