- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

MCI will begin charging customers in 11 states a new fee Sept. 1, bucking the expectations of analysts who say the embattled long-distance carrier should be cutting fees not adding new ones.
The charge, called an "instate access recovery fee," was created to help MCI recover some of the money it pays local exchange companies for access to their networks. Other long-distance carriers, such as AT&T;, also charge customers for network access.
MCI will charge between 50 cents and $1.95 a month, depending on where the customer lives. Customers in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas will be affected.
Customers in the Washington area will not be charged.
MCI Group is a unit of WorldCom Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. It was the largest such filing in United States history.
"They are in no position to be increasing prices, especially at a time when customers are concerned about MCI's viability. If anything, they should be cutting fees," said Patrick Comack, an analyst for Guzman & Co., a Miami investment bank.
Introducing a fee "takes months to implement," said Audrey Waters, an MCI spokeswoman. "This is not necessarily related to what is happening with our parent company," she said.
MCI notified its customers of the new charge on invoices mailed in July. Some customers may not have noticed, according to Rich Sayers, a self-described "bargain hunter" who runs Bye-Bye-MCI.com, a Web site that monitors the company.
Mr. Sayers said his research shows customers who live in states that require companies to disclose new fees such as New York and Massachusetts learned of the new fee in a section titled "Important News About Your Bill" on page 2 of their statement, Mr. Sayers said.
Customers in states that do not require such disclosure, such as Texas and New Jersey, learned of the new fee by reading a section titled "For Your Information," which appears on the last page of their bill, Mr. Sayers said.
"I'm concerned because some states protect their consumers better than others. If you live in one of the 'non-notification' states, you won't find out about this unless you look at the last page of your bill," Mr. Sayers said.
Miss Waters said she did not know where the notifications were placed in customers' bills.
"I do know that we do invoice messaging, which is certainly better than no notification at all," she said.

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