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FCC Proposes New Rules on ‘900' Numbers

From Associated Press

Operators of 900-number telephone services would be required to tell callers how much they will be charged and give them a chance to hang up if rules proposed Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission are adopted.

The mushrooming $1-billion-a-year industry offers callers the opportunity to talk with psychics, hear romantic “confessions,” pledge money to fund-raising efforts, hear stock quotations and sports scores or request information on used cars.

And companies are increasingly using the numbers that promise credit cards and loans to people with poor credit ratings.

The fee for the calls varies, ranging from $1 to $50 a minute.

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The proposal drew support from all five FCC commissioners, although a majority said they want to be careful not to discourage legitimate uses of 900 numbers.

The industry’s trade group, the Information Industry Assn., expressed some reservations about portions of the plan but agreed that something must be done to weed out companies that use 900 numbers to take advantage of consumers.

“We think it is appropriate for the FCC to look at this,” said association spokesman Steve Metalitz.

On another matter, the commission voted to consider regulations designed to protect consumers from unknowingly having their long-distance companies switched.

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The vote follows the settlement of a bitter feud late last year between industry behemoths American Telephone & Telegraph and MCI Communications.

Each company had accused the other of stealing long-distance customers and of false advertising. The argument ended up in court, but the companies settled in December.

If the FCC adopts the proposed rule, companies would have to receive verification from customers in one of three ways: They would have to respond in writing, call a toll-free number or verify to an independent auditing agency that they wanted to make a change.


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