December 26, 2012


Measure would require per-minute costs be posted; one soldier’s 4-second call: $41

State legislation has been introduced to warn pay phone users of the per-minute costs when using a credit card, which can run up hidden charges of as much as $20 for every 20 seconds.

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said the notification measure is particularly important to protect deployed members of the armed forces who need to make calls during brief airport layovers and all they have handy is a credit card. One company targeted for complaints from troops is Otay Mesa’s BBG Communications and its related German firm BBC Global.

“Taking advantage of people who are stranded because of plane delays and bad weather, or troops in areas with no cellphone service, is not right,” Lieu said in a statement.

Lieu said pay phones usually limit signage to the cost of a local call, leading credit card users to assume that’s the price only to experience “sticker shock” when the bill comes in the mail.

One Los Angeles area woman reported she didn’t have change to call her husband at their home just 22 miles away. She did see the “local calls — 50 cents” warning so she thought nothing of using her credit card. That bill came in at $19.98 for the 20-second call.

Under Lieu’s measure, companies would have to prominently post warnings of the true cost of using a credit card and also provide a toll-free number for users who want to check prices before dialing,

Representatives of the pay phone industry did not return emails seeking comment.

Lieu said his measure is partly being driven by national news reports of troops returning from Afghanistan being hit with “exorbitant” fees when they used credit cards to make calls during a brief layover in Germany.

A soldier from Ft. Hood, Texas, filed a class-action lawsuit against BBG Global after he was billed $41 for a four-second message left on his wife’s answering machine during a stop in Leipzig, Germany. Other troops report similar complaints.

BBG Global, in a statement earlier this year, said another service sets the rates, but that its policies comply with German-set disclosure laws and that troops can get information by dialing “3” before making the call.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in March by John Mattes, a San Diego attorney.

Lieu’s Senate Bill 50 could not dictate notification signs for pay phones outside of California. It has not been set for a hearing.


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