AT&T charges elderly widow $14,000 in "rent" for rotary phone

Think you've got a high phone bill? Consider this: AT&T has charged an 82-year-old widow $14,000 in "rent" for use of its rotary phones over the last 42 years. What's next, kicking orphans into the street?

The Associated Press reports that Ester Strogen first began leasing two black rotary phones -- remember those antiques? -- back in the 1960s. At that time, Ma Bell was a monopoly, and people were forced to rent telephones as part of their basic phone service.

In 1983 Ma Bell was broken up, and from 1985 to 1986 its customers were given the options of continuing the lease the phones, buy the phones, or cancel their agreements.

Many older people, including Strogen, weren't quite clear on the business arrangement, and continued leasing, at the exorbitant rate of $29.10 per month, say her granddaughters, who recently found out about the arrangment and canceled it.

They figured that over the time their grandmother rented the phones, she spent $14,000 in rental fees.

It turns out that the widow is not alone. Some 750,000 people continue to rent rotary phones from Lucent, the AT&T spinoff that now manages the phone service.

Lucent, by the way, disputes the $14,000 claim. The company says it charged the elderly widow $29.10 per quarter, not per month, and so she's only paid $2,000 for renting rotary phones.

Oh, that's much better. Two thousand dollars to rent a piece of equipment most anyone would throw into the trash --- and to take that money from an elderly widow?

That's some defense. It's like defending yourself in court by saying you murdered a victim with only eight bullets, not 12 as claimed by the police.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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