Telecom: Why all the loose traffic?

Loose traffic occurs for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is the customer’s fault; but usually it is the fault of one of the phone companies. Regardless of who is at fault, customers pay double or triple what they would normally pay for these long-distance calls. The problem should be corrected immediately.

New lines added by the customer
Because of the recent explosion in the use of computer modems and fax machines, customers regularly add additional phone lines to connect to these devices. When you order a new phone line from your LEC, the company always asks which long-distance carrier you want assigned to the new line. If you fail to notify your long-distance carrier you will have loose traffic. The line will not bill on your master long-distance account; instead, the calls on this line will bill on your local bill at high nondiscounted rates.

In the sample local bill in Figure 4.2, Acme Manufacturing needed two new phone lines to facilitate its new computerized part ordering system. When ordering the phone lines from Telephone Company A, Acme specified that both lines should have Telephone Company B as the long-distance carrier. Because it never informed Telephone Company B of the new lines, the long-distance calls on these lines are billed on the last few pages of the Telephone Company A local bill.

PIC code errors
Another reason loose traffic may appear has to do with phone company errors. The local carrier controls which long-distance company is a customer’s PIC. Each long-distance carrier has its own PIC code, which is entered into the local carrier’s central office and into its billing computers.

If an overworked phone company billing representative accidentally enters the wrong PIC code for your lines, your long-distance calls will be handled by the wrong carrier. These calls will be billed on your local bill. Many carriers have multiple PIC codes, and you must ensure that the correct one is in place. Certain AT&T customers use 732 as their PIC code, but if the more common AT&T PIC code of 228 is used, the calls still might bill on the local bill.

Mismatch at the central office
Even if the PIC code is correct in your local telephone company’s billing system, it may be incorrect at its central office. Since the billing computers and central office computers are usually separate systems, mismatches frequently occur. In this case, loose traffic might appear on your bill. This problem is especially prevalent when you switch long-distance carriers. Local carriers are notorious for changing the PIC in the billing system but failing to do so at the central office. Of course, the end result is that the customer pays the old rates for another month or two until somebody figures out why the change never occurred.

PIC freeze

Once a customer is satisfied that his lines have the correct PIC code, it is a good idea to request a PIC freeze with your local carrier. This “freezes” the PIC choice and prevents anyone from changing your long-distance carrier again unless the company has written permission from you.

Slamming is the fraudulent practice of changing someone else’s long-distance carrier without that person’s permission. This is a common practice in the industry, especially among entrepreneurial start-up long-distance companies and multilevel marketing long-distance companies. If your long distance suddenly starts to appear on your local bill and you do not recognize the carrier, you have been slammed.

Slamming methods
The latest slamming techniques are becoming increasingly creative. Fraudulent carriers create sweepstakes with a free car or a cruise as the grand prize. To enroll in the sweepstakes, you fill out a small card from a countertop display found in convenience stores and restaurants. If you read the fine print on the card, you will find that you have just agreed to switch your long-distance carrier. (Do not count on taking that free cruise anytime soon.)

One of the most creative techniques has to do with the name of the long-distance carrier, as in the case of long-distance companies called “I Don’t Care” and “I Don’t Know.” When a new customer orders lines from a local carrier, the local carrier’s representative asks, “Who do you want as your long distance provider?” If the customer replies, “I don’t care,” then he gets his long-distance from the I Don’t Care Long-Distance Company.

Another company that is successful in securing new customers fraudulently is Hold, Inc. That company’s telemarketer calls you for an innocent-sounding survey, then suddenly asks “May I put you on hold?” If the person says “yes,” then his long distance is switched to Hold, Inc. If a customer denies choosing Hold as her carrier, the Hold customer service representative plays back the recorded conversation to prove the customer did say “yes” when asked “May I put you on Hold?”

Slamming rights
If you have been slammed, you should not pay the charges for the first 30 days. The new FCC rules effectively give you a free month of long-distance service. According to FCC ruling 00-135, released in May 2000, you do not have to pay anyone for the first 30 days of calling. After 30 days, you must pay for the calls, but you are only responsible to pay your original carrier according to its rates. This is true even if the slamming company is still the carrier for the calls. If you have already paid the bill, the slamming company must pay your authorized carrier 150% of the charges. Your carrier is then supposed to issue a credit to your account.

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