Bobbie Jeanne Kennedy, single and disabled with muscular dystrophy, found looking for a roommate an education in duplicity.
Callers responding to her classified ad in the local newspaper, after finding out the situation, would never keep appointments to see her apartment.Others would leave names and numbers that almost always were false.
Kennedy was among the first in Boise to order US WEST Communications' "Caller ID" telephone service. It started a six-month market trial Feb. 18 with about 70,000 residential and small-business customers.
Caller ID is available in parts of 13 other states and Washington, D.C. But the Boise trial involves the nation's first system allowing subscribers to see both the number and name of local callers before picking up the phone.
Not everyone likes the idea. Critics say it puts privacy and personal security at risk. But for Kennedy, it's a godsend.
"I recently moved, but I decided I wasn't going to put my ad in the paper again until I had Caller ID," she said. "I just don't want to deal with all those crazy people out there."
The service is designed for people like Kennedy who want to know which calls to pick up, return later or ignore entirely.
US WEST wants to start putting Caller ID in 16 other metropolitan areas in its 14-state territory right after the Boise trial, starting with Phoenix and Denver. And as required switching equipment and software is installed over the next six years, it plans to extend Caller ID to 65 smaller cities, including three in Idaho.
But some people remain skeptical of what the Colorado-based phone company calls an effort to give customers already inundated with information the extra bit they need to decide how to use their time.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, victims rights groups and others object almost everywhere Caller ID is introduced. They contend it invades privacy and threatens anyone whose safety depends on anonymity.
"Most advocates are resisting Caller ID, and rightfully so," Diane Campbell, program coordinator for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said from Washington, D.C. "We see the very strong potential for it to jeopardize not only battered women but battered women's advocates."
But Campbell acknowledged her group has received no reports of Caller ID leading to incidents of women or children, or crisis counselors, being tracked down by abusers. And phone companies have succeeded in overcoming most objections raised to utility regulators by citing benefits of the service and a lack of hard evidence about its drawbacks.
Phone companies are able to "block" the number and name display for any line. But they fear too many people blocking their lines might reduce Caller ID's value to other customers, so most offer no blocking service or only "per-call blocking."
That requires customers to dial a series of numbers before each local call they don't want identified. Caller ID subscribers see only "P" or "private" on their display units when those calls come in.
Critics object to burdening customers and question whether children and the elderly will remember how to block calls. US WEST contends those are red herrings.
The real issue, it says, is personal control and responsibility.
"If the customer is truly concerned about guarding his or her anonymity, remembering the code to block would not be an inconvenience," spokeswoman Wendy Carver-Herbert said.
US WEST has made per-call blocking available throughout the Boise test area. Per-line blocking is offered only to law enforcement and domestic violence centers. Individuals must meet the company's criteria for a "personal safety exception."
That requires a written description of the threat, what the customer has done to resolve the problem and why per-call blocking isn't protection enough. The policy was developed with help from Idaho Public Utilities Commission staff. But regulators themselves were hamstrung by a state telephone deregulation law limiting their jurisdiction.
US WEST acknowledges Boise was picked for the market trial partly because it offers what Idaho Vice President Gene Hill called a "favorable regulatory climate."
But even though US WEST says information provided on per-line blocking applications is confidential, detractors say it adds insult to injury.
But it turns out the solution to blocking for Caller ID customers set on knowing the source of every incoming call is simple: Don't answer.