- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

AT&T; Corp. filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday that says three rivals steal calls from the company's toll-free operators through a "fat-finger dialing" scheme.

According to the complaint, Sprint Corp., Sprint subsidiary ASC Telecom Inc. and One Call Communications Inc. have dozens of toll-free numbers that are similar to AT&T's operator-assisted service, 800/CALL-ATT.

Dial 800/CELL-ATT, for example, and you will be connected to operators for ASC Telecom, which charges much higher rates than AT&T, according to the complaint.

"Consumers who inadvertently dial one of defendants' numbers have been deceived into using defendants' services, causing AT&T to lose business which was intended for it," the complaint says.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, seeks unspecified monetary damages. It also asks the court to force Sprint, ASC and One Call to surrender numbers similar to 800/CALL-ATT.

In September, the Federal Communications Commission proposed $6.5 million in fines for ASC and One Call after determining that the companies schemed to take advantage of consumers' dialing errors. The FCC has not imposed the fines.

Some folks find the term "fat-finger dialing" offensive.

"I'm sure a lot of thin people misdial, too," said Maryanne Bodolay, executive administrator of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, a Sacramento, Calif., group that discourages discrimination against overweight people.

"I think what it does is play up the already sensational biases people come up with about fat people. I'm at a stump about this," she said.

The term did not come out of thin air, although pinpointing its origin is difficult. In the past year or so, consumer reporters at television stations across the nation have warned viewers about the dangers of dialing with oversized digits.

"[The term] did not originate here. We try to avoid it, but if we don't use it, people sometimes don't know what we're talking about," said Rosemary Kimball, an FCC spokeswoman.

In a written statement, Sprint denied AT&T's charge, although it acknowledged that "certain … former customers of ASC are alleged to have used 800 numbers in the manner described by AT&T, and ASC has ended its contractual relationships with those customers."

The statement contained a typographical error, inserting the word "of" in between the words "certain" and "former."

Did someone with fat fingers type it?

"Actually my fingers are capabable of typos no matter what the size," a company spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail message, proving her point.

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