Californians Push for Unlisted Phone Freedom

April 1, 2008 8:56:27 PM PDT
There's a bill making its way through the State Legislature to stop those fees for unlisted phone numbers. The phone companies don't like it. It's money out of their pockets. 5 million Californians pay a fee every month for an unlisted number.

"It's insane!"

84-year-old Lynn Smith dreads going home after bingo to face annoying phone calls from businesses combing the White Pages.

"That's so expensive. I was unlisted. When I had a husband, we had better income. Now, I can't afford that," says Smith.

On Tuesday, Verizon upped its unlisted fee from $1.50 a month to $1.75. AT&T's hike is already in effect, from 30 cents to $1.25. And smaller phone companies that were charging anywhere from 30 cents to a dollar are now at $1.99.

That's nearly $25 dollars a year.

"This is an essential privacy issue," says State Senator Sheila Kuehl.

Sheila Kuehl and consumer groups succeeded Tuesday in getting a proposal through a key committee that bans phone companies from charging for unlisted numbers.

"It's dead wrong for the phone companies to profit from people's Constitutional right to privacy," says Mark Toney of the The Utility Reform Network.

Phone companies say there are additional costs associated with separating unlisted customers.

Plus, unlisted fees help them balance out other services where they lose money.

"That's a huge issue, because we will lose half a million dollars in revenue we can't replace. We can't make it up. We're competing the best we can," says Kelly Boyd of SureWest Communications.

Smith says making unlisted numbers free would change her life.

"Unlisted? Peace. Quiet."

The bill is now headed to the Senate Floor. Phone companies are pushing for an amendment that would allow customers to say they need unlisted numbers for safety reasons and the fee would be waived.


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