FCC Launches Web Site to Help Consumers Choose Long-Distance Services

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The Federal Communications Commission, Washington, announced Thursday it has launched a Web site, called MarketSense, designed to help consumers make sense of long-distance telecommunications advertising.

The site, www.fcc.gov/marketsense, offers 10 telecom tips that warn customers to be careful before signing up for a specific long-distance service. It also offers a list of Web sites that provide information on choosing a telecommunications provider, such as rate comparisons, plan comparisons and calling-pattern cost calculators.

The Web site was introduced at a "Truth-In-Advertsing" forum jointly held by the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC in Washington to address the advertising, marketing and direct marketing of long-distance services, including dial-around services -- often called "10-10" numbers.

"What we are doing today takes another important, indeed critical, step towards arming consumers with market sense -- to ensure that consumers obtain clear and truthful information about what service choices they have. Simply put -- Truth-in-Advertising," said FCC chairman William E. Kennard, at the forum.

Kennard also said that in the next several weeks the FCC is planning to meet with consumer groups to embark on an aggressive education and outreach strategy to get out the word to all consumers that they need to be smart shoppers in today's environment.

Kennard said that consumers now have more choices than ever, and long-distance calling rates are the lowest in history.

"Today, virtually every American can find a calling plan, calling card, or 10-10 dial-around number that saves money -- no matter where they live, how many calls they make a month or where they call," he said. "What we need to do is help consumers find the deal that's right for them."

He said he was particularly concerned about the advertisements for 10-10 dial-around plans, which he said 20 percent of U.S. households used at least once in the past year. In 1993 dial-around plans made up about $96 million of the long-distance market; today such plans make up nearly $3 billion of the market, roughly 7.5 percent of the $40 billion long-distance industry.

"But dial-around can be confusing," said Kennard. "I have seen these ads. And, although I consider myself a sophisticated telecommunications consumer, I find some of these ads confusing, and I know that consumers are confused. They are filing complaints with their elected representatives and they are writing to us saying they have been deceived by ads that promised them one thing and then delivered them something else."

The forum provided an opportunity for government, industry and consumer groups to discuss recent trends in how these long-distance services are advertised and what principles should guide industry advertising. Participants examined mock television, print, and direct marketing ads and discussed whether the ads failed to adequately disclose the actual cost to consumers for using the services, or only reveal in fine print important information about additional fees or other charges.

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