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Cell-phone industry targets `caller pays'

It hasn't caught on in the United States yet: mobile-phone calling in which the caller pays. But before it does, the cellular phone industry wants federal regulators to create a national, uniform requirement so callers will be notified that they're picking up the tab.

European callers already pay when they call a mobile phone. So do Asians. But in the United States, the person receiving a mobile-phone call - not the person placing it - foots the bill.Looking ahead to the day when the practice is flip-flopped in the United States, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission today to adopt a uniform notification standard, according to a draft of the petition obtained by the Associated Press.

The industry' request is aimed at avoiding the possibility of having a confusing, state-by-state patchwork of differing requirements, the petition said. The industry is also expected to ask the FCC to take steps to remove any regulatory impediments to companies offering the "caller-pays" approach.

The proposed standard, however, would not require callers to be given information about the cost of the call, since the petition says that would be expensive to implement.

Currently if American customers want to avoid unwanted calls and their accompanying expense, they're forced to switch off their phones. A few companies do provide some form of the caller-pays approach, and some companies split up the cost of incoming long-distance calls by making the caller pay the long-distance charge and the receiver pay a local-access fee.

Now some of the biggest, AT&T Corp. and Bell Atlantic Corp., support making cellular callers pay all expenses associated with their calls. They note that's the practice on regular, wired-phone networks.

In January, AT&T, the nation's largest wireless company, announced that it will test the caller-pays option this summer and roll it out for its 8.2 million wireless customers by the end of the year.

But there are hurdles to offering mobile phone service in which the caller pays - particularly on a grand scale. One of the biggest is the ability of mobile phone companies to track each caller and bill them.

To this end, the industry is also expected to ask the FCC to require that local telephone companies - who already have information on their customers for billing purposes - share that information with mobile phone companies, the draft petition said.