Can you hear me now?

Irate about phones

Bring back the good old days, please!

Once upon a time, telephones were simple things. Like Model A Fords, you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black. It never didn't work. Yes, the phone lines might be blown down from time to time, but the phone itself always worked.

old phone

Making a telephone call was also simple. You picked up the receiver, told the operator what number you wanted, and she (it was always "she") connected you. In small towns, she might also tell you a little gossip while the call was going through. You could predict how much a long distance call would cost: the rates were published in the front of the phone book in three columns: daytime; evening; and nights, weekends, and holidays.

Some people had fancy telephone numbers, like Enterprise 7-3500. Ours was much simpler; I remember it still: 16F210.

Then dials came along, and numbers became standardized at seven digits. Then area codes, and you were expected to dial your own long distance calls!

Mercy! My mother complained bitterly, "You mean I'm supposed to dial eleven numbers just to talk to someone 20 miles away?" Change was hard for my mama; she had once worked as an operator.

And then they deregulated the phone companies, and all hell broke loose. You were expected to buy your own phone! Suddenly you had to be knowledgeable about such things as pulse and tone dialing. And don't get me started on cell phones! I've had five, and none of them has worked reliably.

The big hassle nowadays is choosing a long distance plan. The plans are myriad and the devil is always in the details. That's the tiny print at the bottom of the page. Eek! Eek! Eek! The only thing more frightening than choosing a long distance plan is making a long distance call from a pay phone. You never know what it will cost.

My cell phone has unlimited, nationwide long distance. My wired phone at home includes 30 minutes of long distance calls for a flat-fee. But neither plan includes Canada, and I have friends there. Chat a few times north of the border, and the phone bill goes through the roof.

10-10-987 logo rates

I'm sure you've seen the ads for 10-10-987 dial-around service. They're the ones with John Stamos in front of a barn somewhere, enthusing about how simple and how inexpensive it is.

Now 3¢ a minute is much less than I have been paying for my calls to Canada. I decided to try this 10-10-987 on one call, just to see what it would really cost. The experimental call finally appeared on my Verizon bill. Conveniently, the same bill included a call of similar length made through Verizon.

Two Phone Calls to Vancouver, BC, from Palm Springs, CA
Time of callWednesday
7:26 pm
5:47 pm
Length of call8 min7 min
Cost per minute$0.63$0.0857

Sure enough: (7 min X 3¢) + 39¢ = 60¢. Exactly as advertised.


Not so fast. It seems I may be one of the lucky ones. I happened onto a website that compares 10-1X-XXX dial-around plans. According to, 10-10-987, aka Telecom*USA, is a division of MCI, as is 10-10-220 and 10-10-321. MCI has recently increased rates on the latter two services as much as 80%. Some people who have used 10-10-987 have found themselves billed for extraordinary amounts, far more than advertised, and have had great difficulty getting the bills straightened out. (See "10-10-987 billing problems and Contact information for 10-10-987 by Telecom*USA - MCI")

I hasten to reiterate that my bill was completely as advertised: 3¢ per minute plus 39¢ per connection. Your mileage may vary.