Sunday, May 21, 2006

MCI: Moronic, Criminal and Ignorant

So, the main topic this week will be the recent activities of the phone company MCI. They appear to be a bunch of crooks, as best I can figure out.

My normal phone company is AT and T. I have been with them for a while, as they offer plans that suit my calling habits. I was very sorry to hear that they decided to throw their hat in with the profoundly dreadful BellSouth, who I have complained about before. However, this week I discovered a rather nasty consequence of my phone company choice.

I have a friend who is currently in jail. We are able to keep in touch by letter, but some times it is nice to be able to actually talk on the phone. This is not an altogether easy proposition, as the only way we can talk is for my friend to call me collect. In theory though, this should not be too difficult. However, it seems that the crooks at the phone companies, notably MCI, want to make this process as difficult as possible.

When my friend first called me, I got the usual officious greetings explaining that the call originated from a prison, and was then asked whether I would accept the charge. Naturally, I agreed. We had a very nice chat and everything was cool. A little while later I received a bill from MCI, which I paid the very next day. No problems, thus far. The bill was ridiculously high, but no matter. It turns out that MCI has the contract to provide collect calls from prisons in the State of Louisiana. Although I am sure that there have been all sorts of antics (i.e. back-handers) of the sort a Public Service Commissioner should care about in the awarding of this contract, on the face of it, it seems a reasonable arrangement. It does provide MCI with a State sanctioned monopoly, which explains the high rates.

However, this week, I received a letter from my friend telling me that my number has now been blocked by MCI. This was quite a surprise, as I had payed the bill and as I had heard nothing about this. So, I put in a call to MCI, to try and find out what was going on. My goodness, did I get a shock!

'Lequisha 5' of MCI informed me that as I was with AT and T and MCI had no billing arrangement with them, I would have to open a new account with MCI. This surprised me a little. I know of someone else who has BellSouth for their phone service and they are not required to do this. After all, BellSouth and AT and T recently merged! Lequisha 5 was unimpressed. She knew nothing about the merger and anyhow did not care. I asked Lequisha 5 why MCI could not just send me separate bills, as they had before. She told me that this was a new program which had only been in operation a few months. I pointed out that I had received my bill from MCI only two weeks previously, so this did not sound too plausible. Again, Lequisha 5 was unimpressed. She told me that I had to open an account with MCI. She also offered me the option of changing my phone company to MCI! This was the giddy limit -- it amounts to an attempt at slamming. The worst was yet to come, however.

When I told Lequisha 5 that I did not want to change my phone company, she informed me that my only option was to open a special MCI account. She also told me that MCI had called me on numerous occasions, to tell me this. This is an outright lie, but I let it go. So, we began the process of setting up an account. This was where the big shock came. It turns out, in order to open up an account with MCI one has to provide an up-front payment of $50. I protested this. I suggested that MCI could check my credit, check my payment records, whatever they needed to do. None of this was good enough for Lequisha 5. If I wanted the block removed from my phone, so that I could receive calls from my friend, then MCI needed $50 of my money.

As Lequisha 5 was clearly a very determined lady, I naturally asked her what rate of interest would be paid to me, whilst MCI had their sticky fingers on my $50. Lequisha 5 clearly thought that such a request was retarded. There would be no interest paid at all! The good new was though that, if I received a call from my friend, the cost would be deducted from my $50.

I told Lequisha 5 that this arrangement was not really satisfactory. One of the many problems I could see with her proposal was that it was a pretty clear violation of 47 USCS 253(a) (the text is available here). This law applies mainly to States, and as MCI is acting as an agent of the State of Louisiana, in this case, it should apply to them. Needless to say, Lequisha 5, was unimpressed. When I asked Lequisha 5 to transfer me to the MCI legal department, so that I could debate this point with someone better versed in the law, she explained that she could not transfer me, but gave me the number. When I called the number she gave me, it was the number for the Federal Communications Commission! So, naturally, I filed a complaint against MCI.

There is however, a deeper and more troubling point here. I am educated and middle class. Many of the friends and families of inmates are not. I can afford to pay $50 so that I can receive calls from my friend. However, for a person living on minimum wage, this $50 MCI charge represents a significant amount of money and no doubt amounts to a considerable hardship. What I have in mind here are all the little old ladies, with sons in jail, or wives with husbands in jail. It appears that this fee presents a very real and substantial barrier to their abilities to maintain significant family relationships with their incarcerated relatives. This seems to me to be wrong.

What is also problematic is the vast amount of money this 'program' will yield to MCI. The Louisiana State Prison at Angola, for example holds roughly 5,000 prisoners, at any time. If each of these prisoners has just two contacts on the outside they wish to be able to call, then this would provide revenues to MCI of half a million Dollars, just for the right to be able to be contacted by an imprisoned friend, or loved one. Assuming an annual interest rate of 4%, this provides MCI with a net profit of $20,000 for doing nothing! These figures result from very conservative assumptions. Who knows how much money this MCI scam will actually make them.

I know that I am not the only person who has had problems with MCI, in this kind of context. I will be filing complains with any responsible authority, or legislative agency. In the meantime, should you wish to discuss this matter with the 'fragrant' Lequisha 5, then please feel free to give her a call. Her number is 1-800-231-0193. I am sure that she (or one of her partners in crime) will keep you on hold for a good long time, before trying slam you into signing up with MCI. It seems whether you fall for this ruse or not, Lequisha 5 and her cohorts will still have plenty of novel and legally dubious methods to steal your money.

The CP

Update: In addition to the complaint I filed with the FCC, I have now also lodged complaints with the Public Service Commission and The Better Business Bureau. Professor Zero is reporting that Sprint also does something similar, but they ask for $150 up front, and charge even more for calls! May I politely suggest that everyone calls these phone company crooks and screams at them. Also, I recommend that if you own MCI stock, now would be a really good time to dump it. What a bunch of bastards.

The CP


Blogger Tabitha Grimalkin said...

This is absolutely outrageous! Reading this made me furious but, sadly, not shocked. It seems that more and more companies are taking this sort of unreasonable and greedy stance.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Keep fighting them... they've been doing unethical business for years -- they more or less stole one of our outgoing lines as a long-distance carrier from Sprint three times in a month a while back...

The social justice point just makes me weep. I'm not at all surprised that the state of Louisianna would allow such provisions in their contract, but it does make me sad for those who can't pay and will lose their family relaitonships as a result.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

It's Sprint too, and the State of NY!
MCI was brought into Louisiana NOT to do this sort of stuff: the last contract (I forget now who it was with) was thrown out via a lawsuit.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate sites like this. They are a last refuge for consumer sanity.
11 days ago our phone went out. Day 10 I called MCI to resolve the issue. They promised to be out by Day 8. Luckily I called on Day 9 because then they said they were really planning to come out Day 7.
Day 7 phone not working, they said they came here and no one was home. My mother, who is a senior citizen, legally blind and who really needs a phone and I were home. The whole day we were home. They said they would come out by Day 5.
Day five came and went and they had to reschedule for Day 1. For sure they would be here by Friday night, 7pm, day 1. Day five was a SUNDAY btw and they said they would be here by 7pm- seemed fishy to me too, and like I said, they didn't show up.
I complained that I shouldn't have to wait all that time. MCI stationed in the Philipenes said that the work was to be done by AT&T operators and they were at their mercy. AT&T operators checking lines for MCI- yes I was in trouble.
Day 1, today, Friday night I call before the 7pm deadline. MCI said technicians were here but no one home. Did the techs call me- no, did the techs leave a note on the door- NO, did the techs ring the doorbell- NO I WAS HOME 30 feet away from the front door waiting.
The Philipene MCI operator told me the tech would reschedule for tommorrow by 12pm. Why should I spend my Saturday morning waiting for technicians who never show up. I asked to speak to a supervisor and she said the supervisor would give the same answer. I demanded that I speak with the supervisor. She said the supervisor would call me (my other phone) within an hour and thus I wait.
Throughout my ordeal, these Philipino operators keep spewing the same cliches. "Oh we are sorry. Oh we know what it would be like. We are so greatful that you are a customer with MCI. We are doing everything we can to resolve this." Over and over again, obvious a tactic to try to get the customer to go off the handle.
We still have MCI because I got a good plan back when I worked for them. This was before their CEO Bernie Ebers was arrested for fraud.

5:55 PM  

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