Friday, April 26, 2013

Do You Accept The Charges?

Believe it or not, there was a time where everybody didn't have a smartphone. People made calls from their home or, GASP!, a payphone. If you needed to make a call, but had no cash, you actually had the option of calling collect and getting the other person on the line to accept the charges. This was typically really expensive, and people only called collect if they were in say, jail. But in the 90s, both AT&T and the now defunct MCI tried to make calling collect awesome.

Except, it wasn't. Despite the flashy commercials, using 1-800-COLLECT or 1-800-CALLATT was still collect calling, but a little cheaper than actually using the operator to make the call for you. Going through these companies actually allowed a bit of competition as well, considering the pervious option was just dialing "0", and accepting whatever terms that particular phone operator had (and much of the time these were handled by GTE, Verizon or AT&T). At one point in time, Sprint actually had a card that allowed customers to place calls using their service plan and getting a better rate than using the standard rate on a payphone. Looking back now, calling collect was kind of a crazy concept. With cellphones and smartphones being easily available with decent rates (especially with companies like Virgin Mobile, Boost and Metro PCS), calling collect only is useful if you're locked up in jail, or have absolutley no access to a phone. But therein lies a couple of problems with calling collect today: first of all, we have phone numbers stored on our phone, so it's not likely that we remember someones phone number. Second, can you even call collect on someones cell phone? I never tried myself, but the way rate plans are set up on phones (especially on the prepaid end), I would imagine that it's tough to call someone collect on a mobile phone. But there was a time people used these services, and it seems like the big telcom companies tried to compete with the rise of mobile phone use by making the idea of calling collect an attractive option.

The late 90s ushered in a strange way of offering customers a way to save money on long distance calls. Before telcom companies, and even mobile service providers offered unlimited talk time to anyone across the country, there was an idea that was hatched by some companies to re-route long distance calls through their service to give customers a lower rate on calls. Most people back then didn't opt for long distance plans on their land lines, so using a service like 10-10-220 or 10-10-321 gave customers a way to get 20 or so minutes of long distance time for $1, with each additional minute costing 10 cents or less. These commercials featured celebrities like John Lithgow, Christopher Llyod, Dennis Miller and ALF (well, a celebrity puppet). I don't know how profitable these 10-10 companies were to throw around cash like that for celebrities, but they used the same method for the collect services, too.

So, gone are the days of using collect calls, or dialing 10 extra numbers to save a few bucks on calls. Then again, I'm not complaining at all.

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