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Alaskans call Verizons bluff on MCI phone card block

Date: 4/7/2008 1:22:43 PM

The national telecom company that planned to block Alaskans from recharging their cheap MCI prepaid phone cards has abandoned the plan.

A few weeks ago, Verizon Communications Inc. quietly dropped the proposal, which enraged Alaskans who use the MCI cards and prompted state regulators to file a letter of opposition with the Federal Communications Commission.

Verizon said the change would go into effect last September, but it never happened. Thats because the FCC never held a hearing or ruled on Verizons request.

Verizon officials confirmed this week that they dropped the proposal and will not pursue it further with the FCC.

"Were not saying much beyond that, other than it was a business decision," said Jon Davies, a spokesman for Verizon Communications Inc.

The company also has dropped an erroneous recording that Alaska callers had to listen to since last summer, whenever they used the card. The message said customers in Alaska would not be able to recharge the cards, starting on Sept. 4, 2007.

Anchorage resident Russ Baker, a retired fighter pilot, said he recently bombarded Verizon officials with emails, asking them to pull the lengthy announcement.

He said hes pleased that Verizon scratched the recording.

"It cost us time to listen to it," he said.

The prepaid cards were available at Costco stores in Alaska until 2006, when Verizon, the parent company of MCI, stopped offering them for sale here. Although current owners can continue to buy minutes, new cards will not be sold here.

Many Alaskans consider the prepaid cards a great deal: 3 cents per minute for longdistance phone calls.

Last July, Verizon announced that it would disallow cardholders from adding new minutes if they used a credit card with an Alaska billing address or tried to add minutes from an Alaska phone.

At the time, Verizon said the prepaid cards were unprofitable in Alaska, especially because of the fees it has to pay to local phone companies to use their phone lines.

But state regulators complained to the FCC that Verizons plan potentially violated state and federal laws that protect consumers.

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