Tom Evslin: AT&T is Ripping Off American Soldiers. It’s bad enough that they overcharge domestic customers but we have alternatives. The soldiers don’t because, according to The Prepaid Press, AT&T has an EXCLUSIVE contract to put payphones in PXes in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, you ask, can’t the soldiers get cheap calling cards to call the US? No! Because AT&T is using (abusing!) its position as monopoly supplier of payphones to block the 800 numbers necessary to use nonAT&T calling cards.
He points out that this greedy — but, it seems, entirely legal — stance was instituted prior to SBC’s buyout of the company. I suspect that the plan was to continue it, but also suspect the revelation of this abuse will force the company to modify its policy. (Tom wonders if the new management even knows about the situation, but if it didn’t surface during pre-purchase due diligence someone senior should be fired.)
I’ve had my own trouble lately with AT&T, but it’s small potatoes next to this poor treatment of men and women who a) are putting their lives on the line every day and b) have no alternative. (I had alternatives when AT&T put me through a wringer in my ultimately unsuccessful attempt to add minutes to my phone card, and I took one.)
Big Media has all but ignored the AT&T Iraq phone card story. Here’s a CNN report about a story in the Newark Star Ledger from a year ago; I can’t find the original online. This looks like a story that got barely noticed, and then ignored. Why? I doubt it’s because AT&T is such a major advertiser. More likely, reporters and editors say to themselves, “Well, the Star Ledger has already written the story. It’s old news.”
It’s not old news when the overcharging continues. And in the way the Web can have of elevating important news, a posting on the O’Reilly Emerging Telephony site, pointing to Evlin’s posting, got “Digged” in a major way. Jeff Jarvis and other prominent bloggers have linked to it as well. I predict it’ll be back in the Big Media very soon now.
Tom notes that this issue seems to have originated, in any event, with an publication called the Prepaid Press, which sells newsletters and runs an online site as well. In an update, the publication’s Gene Retske notes that the American Legion is taking up the soldiers’ cause. Good for the Legion, good for Retske and Evslin; the latter two are using citizen journalism to stir up the right kind of trouble.