Long distance telephone rates for American military men and women in Saudi Arabia were reduced about 30 percent by AT&T on Friday.
The new rates will apply to calls on AT&T's USADirect Service that are billed to an AT&T Calling Card. A 10-minute Calling Card call will now cost $11.50, down from $16.04. A 10-minute collect call will cost $14.75, down from $19.29.AT&T will charge a flat $1.15 per minute and eliminate its $2.50 service charge for all calls charged to the AT&T Calling Card. The company will also reduce its service charge on collect calls using USADirect Service from $5.75 to $3.25. The initial minute charge of $3.19 has also been reduced to $1.15.
"We are pleased to be able to lower the cost of keeping in touch for the thousands of service personnel who call home," said Frank Ianna, AT&T vice president of international communications services.
The company said in a Thursday announcement it had been offering USADirect services from Saudi Arabia at cost and will now be absorbing a loss in lowering the prices.
The new rates will be in effect for the next 30 days or longer. The rates apply to all USADirect calls placed from Saudi Arabia to the United States mainland and Hawaii.
AT&T's Desert Fax program is also being extended. The free one-way facsimile service allows friends and relatives of military personnel to send messages to their loved ones in the gulf. Nearly one million faxes have been sent from 400 AT&T PhoneCenter stores and 60 military bases around the country since the program began in September. The cost of the program to AT&T has been $1.5 million so far, according to the company.
"This is the first time in the history of combat that phone service has been so accessible to troops in a war zone," Ianna said. "We've heard from people here and in Saudi Arabia that these calls are extremely reassuring."
Of the several hundred thousand AT&T customers who placed calls from Saudi Arabia in January, the average phone charge was $50.36, and the average call lasted 16 minutes. Some of the bills exceeded $400, but they accounted for less than one percent and may have been made by a service member or by a media or business caller.
Since troops were deployed in the gulf in August, AT&T has installed nearly 1,200 USADirect-designated telephones near where troops are stationed. Using these special phones, service members are linked directly with an AT&T operator in the United States. Callers from other telephones in Saudi Arabia can access an AT&T USADirect operator by dialing 1-800-100.
Families of servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf can call a toll-free number - 800-323-HELP - with questions about AT&T's communications services in Saudi Arabia.