Utah newspapers are asking the Public Service Commission to consider changing a tariff rule that allows telephone companies to arbitrarily impose business rates on people listing their home phone number in classified ads.
Patrick Shea, an attorney for the Ogden Standard Examiner, said two advertisers recently complained to the Standard that they were contacted by US WEST Communications and informed they would be charged business rates on their home phone in the future because that was the only number listed in their ad. One case involved a woman who sells cosmetics part-time and the other involved a man selling tree-cutting services.The tariff governing rates states that telephone companies can impose the higher business rate if advertisements for business activities do not list more than one telephone number. This is intended to force people involved in regular commercial activities to purchase a business line and use home phone numbers only in reserve.
Shea said the rule could have a chilling effect on promotional communications as well as free enterprise. He said the rule also creates an anti-competitive atmosphere that could affect business activities.
William Bolling, an attorney for the Newspaper Agency Corp., which handles printing, advertising and circulation efforts for both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune, was also critical of the rule and urged PSC commissioners to consider changing it. He said the rule is unfair because it provides telephone customers with no option. He said it also fails to serve the public interest because it discourages, rather than encourages, free enterprise.
Kirk Nelson, a spokesman for US WEST, said this was the first the company had heard about the complaints and that officials would look into the matter. He said it is unlikely that those placing classified ads were being contacted unless the ad specifically indicated the person was involved in an ongoing enterprise. He said in that case, it is not fair to other businesses to allow the person to benefit from lower residential telephone rates while conducting full-time business operations.
PSC Chairman Ted Stewart asked US WEST officials to look into the matter and respond in writing to Shea and Bolling with a copy of the letter going to the PSC. Stewart said the commission would look into the rule if information indicates a review is needed.