Collect Calls

Collect calls from a pay phone could cost you a fortune. In today’s time, it hard to imagine anyone without a cell phone. However, there could be a time when your cell phone battery runs out and you need to make an emergency collect call.

One day, a Northridge lady was running late at her hair salon. Her cellphone had died. So she made a collect call to her home, from a pay phone, about 3 miles from home. She had no choice because the pay phone ate up her quarters. So she dialed zero and the operator came on to assist her make her collect call.

When her husband received the call, he immediately accepted the collect call request knowing it was his wife. The call lasted roughly three minutes. Then when the AT&T bill arrived, it included a charge for $45.09 from something called NCIC. NCIC is the Network Communication International Corp., a Texas company that says its the largest private held provide of collect call services for pay phones, prisons, hospitals and hotels.

According to the phone bill, NCIC charged her $37.40 for the brief, in-the-neighborhood collect call, $4.74 in regulatory fees and taxes, and an extra $2.95 just for the hell of it (the bill calls this NCIC’s “billing cost recovery fee”).

The couple were appalled when they saw the $45 charge. But is it legal?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

“Pay phones are largely unregulated,” said Rosemary Kimball, a spokeswoman for the Federal Communications Commission. “They were deregulated in 1996.”

An NCIC customer-service supervisor said the call consisted of a nearly $25 “connection charge” and a rate of about $2.50 per minute.

NCIC provides collect-call services on behalf of whoever owns a particular pay phone and typically kicks back more than half the proceeds to the owner. It’s thus in both NCIC’s and the phone owner’s interest for the charge to be as high as possible.

In this case, our victim called NCIC and when she complained about being charged $45 for a local call, the service representative immediately dropped about $20 from the total.

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