Ameritech's New Call-Blocking Service Is Too Costly, Trade Group Says
By Doug Sword, The Indianapolis Star and News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 5--If you've ever wondered what it would be worth to rid yourself
of pesky, dinner-interrupting telemarketers, Ameritech has the answer:
$3.95 a month.
Beginning today, Ameritech will roll out its new Privacy Manager
service in three Indiana cities -- Indianapolis, Gary and
Hammond. While the service costs $3.95 a month, it requires Caller ID
with Name to work, which costs an extra $9.50 a month.
That's too much, says a telemarketing group, arguing that consumers
can get pretty much the same result by being firm with telemarketers
and asking to be removed from calling lists.
Unlike any other privacy-protection service, such as Caller ID,
Privacy Manager will identify 100 percent of callers, says Curt Witte,
Ameritech's vice president for customer applications. That offers
customers a degree of control over their phone line they've never had
before, he said.
This is how it works:
Privacy Manager kicks in when a call shows up as "blocked," "private,"
"out of area," "unavailable" or "unknown" on a Caller ID
display. Ameritech's research shows that calls from telemarketers
generate a large majority of these kinds of messages, Witte said.
Before connecting the call, Privacy Manager kicks in and asks the
caller to give his or her name. In initial testing, seven out of 10 of
these callers simply hung up, Witte said.
"The beauty is that your phone doesn't even ring," he said.
If the caller does identify himself or herself, the consumer's phone
rings and a recording of the name is played.
If the consumer presses "1" on the touch-tone phone the call is put
through and pressing "2" rejects the call. Pressing "3" activates a
message that informs the caller that telemarketing calls are not
accepted at this residence and asks that the consumer's name be added
to the telemarketer's "do not call" list.
That's a legally binding request, Ameritech points out. Federal law
prohibits telemarketers from calling someone who's made such a request
for 10 years.
Consumers can make the same legally binding requests themselves
without paying $13.45 a month for Caller ID and Privacy Manager, says
Chet Dalzell, spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, a
telemarketing industry trade group.
"Generally, any consumer who does not want to receive telemarketing calls
at home has choices," he said.
Telling each telemarketer who calls to remove your name from a calling
list is one way to do it. Anyone wishing to be removed from the
calling lists of all Direct Marketing Association members need only
send a letter with their name, address and phone number to Telephone
Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014,
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014.
Some customers love to buy the latest telephone technology and Privacy
Manager "is a feature that some people will find handy," said Jerry
Polk, utility policy analyst for Citizens Action Coalition. But
Privacy Manager raises the question of "Where does it end?" he said.
Local phone companies came up with Caller ID, then they sold a product
to telemarketers that blocked Caller ID, Polk said. Now Ameritech has
come up with a new feature that thwarts the Caller ID block.
Ameritech plans to follow Privacy Manager's introduction with an
advertising campaign beginning Jan. 18. The ads will feature peaceful
home scenes, asking the viewer if it's worth interrupting a family's
time together with calls from telemarketers. One of the ads targets
Ameritech's rivals, long-distance companies, as a prime source of
intrusive telemarketing calls.
The technology that allows an answering system to interact with both a
caller and a customer is new and exclusive to Ameritech. The
Chicago-based company is negotiating with other telephone companies to
sell them a license to use the technology.
Ameritech rolled the product out first in Chicago and Detroit last
September, followed by Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. The trio of
Indiana cities where Privacy Manager becomes available today
represents the third wave of the product's rollout. Ameritech will
offer the product in stages through next year in the remainder of its
five-state Midwestern territory.
Privacy Manager, like Caller ID and call-waiting, falls into a
category of products that aren't regulated by Indiana. Ameritech
critics claim that the cost of adding such products to a phone line is
only a small fraction of what the company charges for them. Critics
also point to the huge profits these unregulated products generate as
a major reason Ameritech has reported record profits in each of the
last five years.