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Citizen Journalists and a Greedy Telecom Company's Policy

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.

See Tom’s follow-up posts as well (here, here).

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.

3 Comments on “Citizen Journalists and a Greedy Telecom Company's Policy”

  1. #1 Bayosphere
    on Mar 12th, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Citizen Journalists and a Greedy Telecom Company’s Policy…

    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’…

  2. #2 jake
    on Mar 12th, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Not to throw water on your “Big Telecom Bashathon”, but maybe you should consider:

    This story comes up every time someone is having a policy dispute with the telecom industry. This time the issue is over “neutral” pricing for data services. The last time it was objections to the initial consolidation of the Baby Bells. And the time before that, the breakup of AT&T. One would think you guys could come up with a new story to use when trying to influence telecom policy. This one is getting old.

    The assumption in this storyline is that the cost of making calls from a war zone on the other side of the planet should be the same or similar to calls from metropolitan areas in Europe, Asia or wherever. Mightn’t you all take into account the expense of operating in Iraq?

    Further, implicate in the argument that AT&T is “ripping off” our military is that there is limited oversight by the Pentagon procurement folks, or that they are incompetent, or (the most fun) they are corrupt. For journalists, whose industry is rife with circulation scandals, agenda journalism and/or just plain bad product, to accuse our military people of not doing their jobs properly is pretty rich.

    As a former Marine officer, I am as sympathetic as the next person (probably more) to the plight of our fighting forces overseas. But I marvel at avalanche of articles on this subject, particularly in places that just happen to also think that telecom data pricing should be “neutral”, and from people who one can assume have little sympathy for our military folks. Please excuse me if I’m skeptical of your “concern”.

    Of course Econ 101 tells us that if AT&T can’t make a return on these services they will simply not offer them, leaving our military people no way to call home. So if you have some evidence that the company is making monopoly profits in Iraq, let’s see the numbers. Otherwise, just address the data service pricing directly and leave the military out of it.

  3. #3 Dan Gillmor
    on Mar 12th, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    You haven’t begun to refute the reporting that Evslin — formerly a senior telecom industry executive — and others have done on this. I’m not claiming corruption on the part of Pentagon procurement people, but to have a system that offers customers no alternatives, when it would not be difficult to offer them, is hardly a sign of smart planning.

    And to suggest that no one would offer calling services if AT&T bailed out of its sole-source and restrictive contract is ridiculous. Genuine competition would be a novel approach for this government.

    You claim I have an “agenda” apart from being outraged. My beefs with the telecom industry on network neutrality are unrelated. But your insinuation prompts me to wonder: Do you have a separate agenda here?