The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, April 24, 1998, Page 6, Image 6

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    FCC cracks down on ‘stammers’
number of victims of illegal “slam
ming” - the unauthorized changing
of a customer’s long-distance com
pany - has exploded over the past
five years, showing that federal reg
ulations prohibiting it are all but
meaningless, officials said
Complaints to the Federal
Communications Commission rose
from 1,867 in 1993 to more than
20,000 last year. And since most
people don’t bother to report inci
dents of slamming, the problem
probably is far worse, Sen. Susan
Collins, R-Maine, said during a
hearing of the Senate Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations.
Victims often end up paying
higher, sometimes exorbitant, rates
for poorer service provided by
unethical telephone companies, said
a report released Thursday by the
General Accounting Office,
Congress’ investigative arm.
“Deliberate slamming is like
stealing and should not be tolerat
ed,” said Collins, subcommittee
chairwoman and sponsor of a bill
that would make intentional, repeat
ed slamming a criminal offense.
“It’s time to quarantine this con
sumer epidemic,” said Sen. Dick
Durbin, D-Ill., another sponsor.
Meantime, FCC Chairman Bill
Kennard, called upon the nation’s
local phone companies - the main
providers of billing and collection
for consumers - to help the commis
sion combat another growing prob
lem: cramming. That is the practice
of billing customers for services
they never ordered, such as call wait
ing, voice mail and Internet access.
in letters 1 nursday, Kennard
asked the companies to “work with
the commission in order to adopt an
industry code of practice to prevent
cramming.” The code, he said,
should include getting written
approval from customers to bill
them for nontelecommunications
services and putting nontelecommu
nications charges on a separate page
from the rest of the telephone bill.
The FCC is scheduled to adopt
tougher anti-slamming rules in a
few weeks, and the Senate is expect
ed to debate legislation later this
spring. For now, the most effective
actions consumers can take is hav
Its time to quarantine this ... epidemic ”
Dick Durbin
Illinois senator
ing their long-distance companies
“freeze” their accounts, said Eljay
Bowron, the GAO’s assistant comp
troller general for special investiga
tions, told the subcommittee.
“The FCC has adopted some
anti-slamming measures, but effec
tively does little to protect con
sumers,” he said. “Most states have
some anti-slamming measures, but
their extent varies widely.”
Bowron said slamming is less
frequent among big telephone com
panies that have their own equip
ment and more common among the
smaller “switchless resellers,”
which lease equipment and tele
phone lines from bigger companies.
Telephone customers sometimes
are slammed inadvertently through
clerical errors. But unscrupulous
companies build up customers by
misleading consumers, staging
deceptive sweepstakes and some
times going so far as to falsify
authorization documents or simply
copy telephone numbers out of
phone directories, Bowron said.
He said Daniel H. Fletcher,
whose Fletcher Cos. were fined
more than $5 million by the FCC on
Tuesday, had billed customers at
least $20 million and left industry
firms with at least $3.8 million in
unpaid bills by 1996 after beginning
, large-scale slamming the year
before. Federal investigators suspect
that Fletcher may still be running
similar scams, but they don’t know
where he is, Bowron said.
Kennard told the panel: “I
believe that the reason people slam
is because there is a financial incen
tive to do so, and we need to remove
that financial incentive.”
German parliament votes to use euro
Backers say adoption of continentwide currency will unify Europe
BONN, Germany (AP) -
Parliament on Thursday over
whelmingly endorsed plans to give
up the German mark for the single
European currency.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl called
the vote one of Germany’s “deci
sions of the century.
“I’m assured that the success
story of the German mark will con
tinue as a success story for the
eurd,” Kohl said. & ^ • > Uiisj
■ The 575-35 vote in parliament’^
lower house was iargelya formality,
since the major political parties
already had endorsed plans for
Germany to be among the 11
European Union nations adopting
the euro on Jan. 1.
Many speakers steered a day
long debate toward domestic poli
tics, including Gerhard Schroeder
of the opposition Social Democrats,
nominated this month to challenge
Kohl in September’s national elec
But Kohl largely confined his
hourlong speech to European inte
gration, saying monetary union was
the biggest step in efforts by the 15
EU nations to become more unified.
•{ ~ Polls show <moat Germans
oppose replacing their,solid mark
with ah uncertain euro. But Kohl
said that would change soon.
“The public’s approval will be so
strong we’ll hardly be able to imag
ine the current resistance,” he pre
dicted. “This will be one of our
most important decisions of the
Schroeder and the Social
Democrats also endorsed the euro
but blasted Kohl’s center-right gov
ernment for not doing enough to
prepare for it or convince the public
of its benefits.
“Those who want to substitute
the mark with a European currency
need darn good reasons for it and
should be able to convey them,”
Schroeder said. ,
If European governments; do not
coordinate efforts to fightdouble
digit unemployment, the monetary
union could collapse, he warned.
The remark appeared aimed at
Kohl, who resisted agreements for
continentwide spending to create
jobs last fall at an EU summit.
The reformed communists, the
Party of Democratic Socialists,
were the only bloc unified in oppos
ing the euro. PDS lawmakers hold
ing placards reading “Euro - not
like this” delayed Kohl’s speech as a
parliament official confiscated the
“You can’t unite a continent with
money. That’s never happened, and
never will,” faction leader Gregor
Gysi said.
. Kohl and other backers say the
euro will not only help unite
Europe, but also rival the dollar and
consolidate economic strength to
better compete; with trade blocs in
North America and Asia.
Parliament’s upper house will
vote on the euro plans today.
U.S., Korea
‘open skies’
with pact
United States and Korea reached
an “open skies” agreement
, Thursday that will let the two
countries’ airlines fly freely
between them.
Under previous rules, five
U.S. carriers, including two
cargo companies, served Korea,
and two Korean carriers served
the United States. The new
agreement allows an unlimited
number of airline companies to
fly unlimited flights in either
U.S. carriers previously also
could fly to Korea and offer con
nections to points beyond, but
Korean carriers could not do the
same in the United States. They
now will be allowed to do so, and
carriers heading in each direc
tion will also be allowed to code
That practice, in which two
airlines coordinate flights and
share the same designations on
tickets, allows passengers to
make seamless connections
between carriers.
The pact was effective imme
“Korea, which is our second
largest market in Asia, is now out
largest ‘open skies’ partner in the
region,” said Transportation
Secretary Rodney Slater.
The agreement comes after
similar pacts with Malaysia,
New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore
and Brunei, as well as a liberal
ized deal for flights to and from
“Consumers now enjoy con
venient service to more Asian
cities |h§^^r be|Qr|e” Sl^er
believes increased competition
will lower airfares in Asia.
In Europe, the United States
and France settled an “open
skies” agreement this month and
negotiations are under way with
Britain on a similar pact.
: y - _ _ ;
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