10 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 9, 1998 N ATION/ WORLD
Regulators attempt to clarify telephone bills
WASHINGTON (AP) - C.F. Cline com-
plains that his 17-page telephone bill is so com-
plicated it must have been dreamed up by the
same people who create tax forms. Hes baffled
by the new fees, confused by the maze of taxes
and frustrated by explanations written in tele-
"It appears to have been written by a retired
IRS agent," the Port Charlotte, Fla., retiree said
with a sigh.
Even experts confess they have difficulty
decoding their bills.
Larry Irving, President Clinton's top telecom-
munications policy adviser, leaves that job to the
family MBA - his wife, Leslie.
"I'm just a lawyer," Irving said. "A college
degree and a law degree are not enough to deci-
pher it. I need somebody who has had account-
ing and finance."
Telephone regulators - led by Federal
Communications Commission chair Bill
Kennard, who says he has trouble understanding
his own bill - are expected this month to issue
proposals aimed at making phone bills less con-
fusing. It's not clear how to accomplish that. The
agency now lets companies decide how to list
and explain charges.
"Reading your phone bill should not be like
reading Ulysses - long and complicated,"
Phone companies, meanwhile, insist they are
trying to make bills easier to understand. They
don't want regulators dictating bill formats.
One reason phone bills have gotten more
complex in recent years is because there's a
growing number of companies offering a wider
variety of services, including Internet access,
second lines and voice mail.
Many of these charges usually end up in one
big bill customers get from their local phone
Also, phone companies, fearing customer
backlash, are breaking out the government-
ordered subsidies that once were included in
rates and itemizing new federal charges from
last year's government overhaul of phone fees.
"There are so many more different things
being charged for, it's hard to figure out the bill;"
said Bell Atlantic customer Matthew Davis of
Most phone customers say they don't mind
that charges once hidden in rates now are spelled
out. Some think bills should state in plain
English where these and other charges come
from and what they finance.
Phone bills should be simpler and more infor-
mative, Kennard says, because that makes it eas-
ier for consumers to shop around and figure out
if they're charged for something they didn't buy.
Bell Atlantic, the nation's largest regional Bell
telephone company with 30 million customers
along the East Coast, plans in late December to
begin providing some customers with a more
readable bill. All customers should have the new
format by 2001.
In a 1994 Bell Atlantic study comparing its
own bills against utility and credit card and other
types of bills, consumers ranked the phone com-
pany's at the bottom, said Frank Bennett, vice
president of customer billing.
"I think medical billing is a good analogy to
telephone billing in that it is a fairly complex
discipline that the customer doesn't necessarily
understand," Bennett said.
Davis complained that his Bell Atlantic bill is
"printed on little teeny papers, which are hard to
read. And, there's no attempt whatsoever by the
phone company to explain charges in plain
Bell Atlantic's new bill will be larger - 7 1/2
by 10 1/2 - about the size of credit card state-
ments, and printed on both sides. The first page
will have a summary of charges with a tear-off
payment coupon. It will include longer and
clearer explanations of charges.
After customer complaints, Sprint
redesigned its long-distance bills in 1995,
including listing the amount due with a tear-
off payment coupon up front, and summariz-
ing charges by service - residential phone
paging and phone card. The company also i5
considering a redesign to local phone bills,
said Steve Dykes, a spokesperson for
Sprint's local phone business.
Cline, who is billed by Sprint for local service
and for long-distance provided by AT&T, wants
the FCC to make all phone companies use the
The administration's Irving thinks phone
companies should agree voluntarily to use "plain
language;' and believes federal legislation may
be warranted if they don't.
Roy Neel of the United States Telephony
Association says all customers really need to do to
understand bills is give them a careful review.
NOVI, Mich. (AP) - He' too young
to be president, but Adam Jones is start-
in Inow to line up his support.
re has a Web site, a campaign man-
ag&, and knows where he stands on the
ines is just 17.
Yesterday, the Northville High
School junior begins a yearlong stint in
Wshington as one of 66 congressional
pages. He'll attend classes in the
Lilrary of Congress and deliver legisla-
tivo material to various buildings on
Ue was nominated for the $1,100-a-
moth job by U.S. Rep. Joe
Knollenberg, (R-Bloomfield Hills).
It is just another step, Jones says,
tovard capturing the Republican presi-
deial nomination in 2024.
His mother, Cheryl Jones, was
among the biggest skeptics until she
took a phone message for her son in
1906 while doing dishes.
"After Bob Dole's office called, we
figured he might really do this," Jones
told the Detroit Free Press. Her son
"ha focused in, has a direction and a
"Nothing he could do would surprise
me;- he was born 30 years old."
IW kindergarten, Jones liked to
drags in a suit when he accompanied
teen plans to run
is highest office
"I've always had a passion for
- Adam Jones
his mother to the grocery store. In
the second grade, he ran unsuccess-
fully for the school council. In the
fifth grade, he won first place in a
school essay contest that asked
youngsters what they wanted to be
when they grew up.
Jones wrote that he wanted to be
president so he could change the world.
While his peers watched MTV, he
watched C-SPAN. He solicited auto-
graphs and advice from politicians,
including former President Gerald
Ford, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.),
and former Secretary of State Henry
While his parents and two younger
brothers were sightseeing last year in
the nation's capital, Jones met with
members of the Senate and House in
their offices. On his 16th birthday, he
had his picture taken with House
Speaker Newt Gingrich, (R-Ga).
"I've always had a passion for poli-
tics," said Jones, who heads a 20-mem-
ber Republican club for Oakland
Jones opposes term limits and
affirmative action. He is anti-abor-
tion and favors campaign-finance
reform and the impeachment of
By the time he is ready for his presi-
dential run, Jones figures the major
issues likely will be exploration of plan-
ets and cloning.
Jones was elected freshman class
president but lost in a re-election bid as
"There's a benefit in being defeated,"
he said. "You learn that life goes on -
you go back at it."
Jones, who carries a 3.7 grade point
average, plans on majoring in political
science in college and becoming an
attorney. He said he will seek statewide
political offices before his run for the
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