Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Callers Facing Maze of Deals Long-Distance Pitches Dizzying

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Callers Facing Maze of Deals Long-Distance Pitches Dizzying

Article excerpt

Baffled over whether to dial for dollars with the cozy Friends and Family plan? The no-frills Sprint Sense deal? The dependable-sounding True USA Savings package? Or, maybe, you're just not sure whom to believe?

When it comes to choosing monthly long-distance telephone services, some Americans may be dialing wrong numbers, say industry analysts who blame the current marketing war between long-distance companies for confusing consumers.

"By and large, you cannot tell what an individual call will cost," says Samuel A. Simon, " . . . until the end of the month" when you get your bill.

Counsel to the Telecommunications Research & Action Center in Washington, a non-profit consumer interest group that has compared long-distance costs for a decade, Simon says the industrywide scramble to create bells-and-whistles discount plans for niche markets has distracted many residential callers from money-saving possibilities.

Other low-profile callers get so caught up in the advertising rhetoric of the big-three carriers - AT&T, MCI and Sprint - that they put even the most basic decisions about long-distance service on hold. "There are savings to be had," Simon says. "This is the time to go out and take a look at your options and choices."

That may not be as daunting as it sounds. Granted, long-distance billing has never been straightforward. A survey conducted for Sprint recently found that 88.3 percent of consumers surveyed knew what they paid for a gallon of gas, 85.8 percent knew what they paid for a loaf of bread, but only 38 percent knew the per-minute cost of a long-distance call.

Those findings have become the centerpiece of Sprint's new calling plan, Sprint Sense, a departure from blind-side billing.

Sprint Sense puts the price tag up front with its flat-rate fee of 10 cents a minute evenings and weekends, and 22 cents a minute daytime.

"Seventy-five percent of the people make their residential long-distance calls after work and on the weekends," says Juanada Teas, a spokeswoman in Sprint's Washington office. "If you pick up that phone and talk for 10 minutes, you know how much it is going to cost you - one dollar. …

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