A Hard Cell

There are a million Qwest stories in the naked city. This is just one of them.

The Federal Communications Commission also dictates the Federal Access charge -- "the famous subscriber line charge," Callaghan says, "which the FCC decided to impose so that it can cut long-distance rates and shift the burden onto local customers." That charge went from $5 to $6 a month per customer on July 1.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act established a joint federal-state board to establish core telephone services, the "universal service" that telecom companies must provide. The board reviews that list periodically; when it did so this summer, it decided against any modifications. But fees and surcharges are also subject to change, and as of October 1, the Colorado Universal Service Charge will drop from 2.8 percent of intrastate billings down to 2.3.

Save your pennies, though: The basic rate of $14.92, which has been the cap on residential service since 1995, could be going up. "There may be an effort by telephone companies to seek to have the rate cap removed from the statute," says Callaghan. "The OCC will argue that's only possible if there's some real competition."

And with Mile High Telecom set to discontinue service to its 13,000 customers, there soon will be one less competitor.

Still, lightened of that billion-buck line item, as well as the equally costly Nacchio man, Qwest has recently displayed a startling new willingness to work with regulators and customers alike --or at least pretend for the cameras.

Contacted by a confused consumer who was about to have her phone cut off and couldn't come up with the total listed on the disconnect notice, Callaghan managed to find a sympathetic Qwest rep, who agreed that the notice was "ambiguous," since it failed to make it clear that basic home-phone service could not be cut off for failure to pay other charges bundled into the total. And Qwest not only saw the light; it also requested that Callaghan help reword the disconnect notice so that the situation would be illuminated for the customer, too.

That new and improved disconnect verbiage is still in the works.

Sometime between minutes 24 and 28 of my second on-hold session with Qwest Cellular, my home service was restored.

My faith was not. Not yet.

Last Call

David Hakala is a hero for our times.

He went up against the forces of darkness and emerged victorious.

Specifically, he got a telemarketer to back off.

Hakala, a writer who works out of his home, signed up early for the Colorado No-Call Registry, the state-authorized service that puts residential telephone numbers on a "do not call" list. The initial version of that list took effect on July 1, and Hakala enjoyed many blissful weeks of peace and quiet. "It was working beautifully," he recalls.

Until August 19, when he got a call during dinner from a telemarketer.

Under the law that established the No-Call Registry, people on the list can collect $500 from a telemarketing company if it calls their number. And when Omni Financial Services, the Boulder-based financial company that initiated the call to his home, failed to pony up, Hakala took Omni to small-claims court, suing for $2,560.

Rather than go to trial, late last month Omni settled the case "for an undisclosed sum," Hakala says.

Since then, Hakala's been monitoring other developments on the front line of the fight against telemarketers. California, for instance, just made it illegal for companies to send unwanted text messages over cell phones. (Although Colorado has yet to go that far, it does have another deadline coming up September 30 for adding home phones to the no-call list; go to www.coloradonocall.com for details.)

And he learned something else from his crusade: "TV and radio journalists are even more inconsiderate than telemarketers," Hakala reports. "Telemarketers never called me at 7 a.m.!" -- Calhoun

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