- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) WorldCom Inc.'s MCI Communications has raised its long-distance phone rates.

The rate increase, just days after its chief executive resigned, affects 10 percent of MCI customers. Subscribers to the carrier's two most popular calling plans are not affected, said MCI spokeswoman Audrey Waters.

The country's No. 2 carrier is doubling its Sunday per-minute rate from 10 cents to 20 cents, raising directory assistance requests to $2.49 per call and boosting per-minute rates and monthly minimum charges on several plans.

MCI is also levying new fees on certain customers. Customers who receive MCI's charges inside their local phone bills, for example, will be charged an additional $1.50 per month.

Most new rates go into effect June 1. MCI also raised rates on some international calling plans on May 1.

The changes come weeks after MCI introduced its $50 per month flat-rate calling plan, the Neighborhood, which allows customers to make unlimited local and domestic long-distance calls. The company's other popular domestic plan, MCI Anytime Advantage, charges 7 cents per minute and a $2.95 monthly fee. Neither will be affected, Miss Waters said.

The price increase has been in the works for months and is unrelated to this week's resignation of Chief Executive Officer Bernard J. Ebbers, Miss Waters said.

Asked whether the company was trying to push customers into its more popular plans, Miss Waters said, "We're always interested in having customers go to our new plans. We always encourage our customers to see which plans best suit their needs."

Telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan characterized MCI's rate boost as a "shell game," saying MCI and other long-distance carriers were tinkering with their offerings to lure big-spending customers.

If some of the moves wind up driving away small spenders, the callers will likely be picked up by small regional carriers with cheaper rates, Mr. Kagan said.

"The $50 flat rate plan, that's what they want to focus on," Mr. Kagan said. "The people who are getting their rates raised are those who spend $5 a month or so. They're people who don't spend enough to care."

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