Phone bills are still confusing

Published 2:54 pm Thursday, September 15, 2011

   Have you looked at your telephone bill lately? I don’t mean a cursory glance, but have you checked out some of those mysterious costs that surface every month?

   On a related subject, do you ever wonder where the clothes you wear are being made? I noticed that the last three shirts I bought at one of the nation’s best-known retailers were made in Vietnam. More on that later.

   A $4.57 charge on our August telephone bill caught my eye, and I decided to look a little deeper. It was for long distance service, something we dropped because you can make those calls on cell phones without extra charges.

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   That item may have been on earlier bills, but I hadn’t noticed. Before I could get around to contacting our telephone provider, a reader called about the same listing on her phone bill.

   The woman was incensed because she had been a longtime employee of the phone company in question and believed it was an unfair charge. She said she contacted the company and threatened to file suit, if necessary.

   A company employee eventually told her he would remove the charge from her bills. However, she felt it was a situation that needed a public airing.

   I wasn’t so lucky. The fellow who answered my call said the $4.57 was there because his company would have to handle any long distance calls we might make by error. He didn’t offer to wipe my charge off the books.

   While I had him on the line, I asked about the $5.54 we were being charged on our two cell phones for “credits, adjustments and other charges.”

   All the bill said was those are charges for regulatory cost recovery, federal universal service and Louisiana universal service. Goodness knows what all of that means.

   I didn’t know anything more after posing that question to the phone company representative. He said those are federal, state and local charges, which didn’t tell me much.

   I try to remain calm in such situations, but I lost my cool.

   “Thanks, for nothing,” I said as I hung up the phone.

   My wife decided to give it a try and she obviously got a more compassionate employee on the other end. He said the charge would be removed from future bills.

   If the company can remove that charge for individuals, you have to wonder how it got there in the first place. Are the Federal Communications Commission and the Louisiana Public Service Commission too closely tied to the telecommunications companies they are supposed to regulate?

   I went to the websites of both commissions in an effort to get some answers. Here is what the FCC says about phone bills:

   “Consumers are sometimes confused by the various charges and items on their monthly telephone bills. The FCC’s Truth-in-Billing rules require telephone companies to provide clear, non-misleading, plain language in describing services for which you are being billed …”

   If you think companies are measuring up to that requirement, you are one of the fortunate few.

   Now, the clothes issue.

   Most of us know you can’t find much that is made in America these days, but we keep trying.

   You can understand why companies might use cheaper labor in Central and South American countries, but they have spread their factories around the world.

   I purchased some men’s briefs from a local department store recently and saw they were made in Honduras. Earlier, I had purchased some made in Canada and Mexico.

   The last purchase kind of threw me for a loop. The briefs were made in Pakistan. Why in the world are we doing business with a country whose loyalty toward the United States is questionable?

   Remember the Osama bin Laden situation? He lived in Pakistan undisturbed for years, right under the noses of the government there.

   Honduras-made clothing I can handle. But pardon me if I’m not too happy about wearing men’s briefs made in Pakistan.

   If you wonder why 14 million or more Americans are jobless and why the percentage of families living in poverty in this country is increasing rapidly, this is a major part of the problem.

   Companies will tell you labor unions’ push for higher wages in low-paying industries drove them to seek workers elsewhere. Unions counter that companies are simply making and buying products in other countries to enhance their bottom line.

   Whatever the reason, we are quickly losing ground in the world markets. Unfortunately, this is an issue we don’t hear the president or Congress saying much about.

   Some say Americans don’t want to do the work companies have farmed out overseas. However, I have a feeling that many of those millions in this country who are out of work would love to be able to make men’s shirts and briefs and almost anything else we are buying from other countries.

   Can’t we at least explore that possibility? And let’s keep pushing to have the FCC and PSC do something about those ridiculous and confusing charges on our phone bills.