Local Toll Call Overcharging?

Back in February 2009, we decided to take a closer look at the local and long distance services on our landline.  We had AT&T for local and long distance service, but MCI for our “local toll” service (for calls outside a 20 mile radius from home, but still in Southern California).  So we called AT&T to switch from the “Value Plus Flat Rate” plan, which only covered long distance, to the “One Rate 5 Cents” plan, which covers both long distance and local toll calling.  This would drop MCI and consolidate all of our landline services under AT&T.

For a period after making the switch, we would get a “this call can not be completed” when trying to make a local toll call.  We thought nothing of it, because we thought it was a natural part of the changeover, and in the interim we just used our cell phones for the occasional local toll call.  Soon enough the local toll calls started going through again, so we figured the hangup was a temporary glitch in the system.

Now I have to admit to not looking very closely at the phone bills over the last year, as they are not very high. But our most recent bills for the last couple of months seemed a bit steeper, prompting closer examination.  I noticed we had made more local toll calls this time around – and at the rate of $1.19 per minute! I can call internationally for cheaper than that! Also surprising was that I was still being billed by MCI!

I called AT&T to get more information, and they confirmed that I had switched to an AT&T plan that covered local toll calling, but the switchover from MCI to AT&T for local toll calls didn’t happen.  They put in a work order to fix it from today forward. That’s all I was really going to get from them on this call, and I figured it best to look at the old bills before deciding what to do on the old charges.

After I got home from work, I checked all of my phone bills back to the beginning of 2009. Up to June 2009, MCI charged 10 cents a minute for daytime and 5 cents a minute for nighttime local toll calls.  Then from July 2009 onward, the rate jumped up to $1.19 per minute!  So in that time period, I’ve been charged over $300 for calls that should have cost only $30!

I also noticed the following text at the bottom of the MCI section of the March 2009 bill  (and a couple of subsequent bills also):

Our records indicate that you have requested to cancel your MCI account. If you want to continue to use MCI, please promptly all the 800 number on your invoice. Otherwise, please call your local phone company to switch your service to a new long distance carrier in order to avoid being charged possible higher casual calling rates and surcharges on future calls.

Hmmm, now I can see how this is going to play out when I pursue this with MCI and AT&T.  AT&T is going to say that they have no control over MCI’s billing and that I need to deal with them.  MCI is going to say, “well, we warned you” and blame AT&T for dropping the ball and say it’s not MCI’s problem.  And neither will provide any clarity to the sequence of events surrounding the local toll service being disabled for a while and later re-enabled, which is the crux of the mixup.

If anyone has been through this kind of situation before, I would love to hear your experiences before I proceed further!

(26 April 2010 – Here is an update on the situation)