A new telephone rate rule won't affect how much people pay for calls from hotel rooms or privately owned pay phones, but it will let callers know how much they will be charged.
Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Stewart said the new rule requires that instructions be placed on privately owned public telephones such as those in large hotels.He said many of the alternative telephone-service companies that handle calls from such phones are located in other areas of the country and would be difficult to regulate as public utilities in Utah.
"An informed public is always preferable to regulation," Stewart said.
The rules were written so consumers calling from privately owned phones can find out which long-distance carrier will be handling their calls and what the call will cost before they complete it.
Until now, alternative operators and telephone-system owners weren't required to inform consumers about who is handling their calls.
For example, a person in Park City could use an AT&T credit card number at a privately owned pay phone, make a 30-second call to Salt Lake City, 30 miles away, and be charged more than $4 on their monthly telephone bill.
If a Park City resident, with US WEST as the local carrier, uses his or her home phone to call someone in Salt Lake City, a 30-second call would cost less than a dollar, depending upon time of day.
Phil Bullock, an economist with the state Committee of Consumer Services, said a $4-plus bill on privately owned hotel and pay phones includes a variety of surcharges.
"The hotel or restaurant gets a fee for providing the phone, the alternative operator gets a fee for connecting callers to a long-distance carrier, and the long-distance carrier gets a fee," Bullock said. "It all adds up."
The instruction notice must tell how to connect with the operator-service provider of the caller's choice and provide a toll-free number for complaints and questions.
Alternative-service operators also will be required to quote rate information at the caller's request and to allow the caller to end the call at no charge before it is completed.
Bullock advised people using such phones to make sure they know how to access their personal long-distance carriers before placing calls from hotels or private pay phones.
"That will prevent unwanted surprises when you get your bill," he said.