Pacific Bell has found that a private company that charges callers $2 a minute to leave messages for key members of Congress did not have proper authorization for a listing in the official U.S. Government pages. The number will be removed from official U.S. listings in future telephone books, the company said.
The decision to drop U.S. Congressional Voice Mail Service from the listings came after the Colorado-based company failed to produce proper authorization from any government official, Pacific Bell spokeswoman Kate Flynn said.
The appearance of the voice mail company's 900 telephone number in the recently released Santa Monica-area telephone book has sparked a handful of complaints to Westside congressmen. The callers questioned whether the government was charging citizens to call their elected representatives.
Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) called it "misleading to the public" for a private company to be listed in the government pages.
A spokesman for Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) said it is "outrageous" that a service with no connection to a government agency be listed immediately after the congressman's district office number.
Flynn said Pacific Bell did receive a request, purportedly signed by a federal employee, that the service be listed under Congress of the United States. In response to an inquiry from The Times about the listing, Flynn said the phone company asked for verification of the signature but could not obtain it.
"We have not been able to track down anybody," she said. "We cannot verify it. We will cease to put that number in subsequent phone books."
The 900 service already has appeared in the government listings of the newly published Pacific Bell phone books for West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Alhambra, Ventura, Sacramento, San Diego, Fremont, Hayward, Stockton and Sonoma.
"Until now the question of verification has never come up," Flynn said. "It's never been an issue. Now it is."
The number also was published in some GTE directories. GTE spokesman Larry Cox said Pacific Bell provides the government listings to GTE. "If they are going to exclude it," Cox said, "I would presume we would too."
Dale Comyford, president of U.S. Congressional Voice Mail Service, said that he asked telephone companies across the country to place the number in the federal government listings. He said the signature on the authorization form given Pacific Bell was of a government employee who has since left public service. He said he had never met the individual and could not recall where the person worked.
Comyford said it is not misleading to have his firm listed in the government pages, because that is where customers will look for it.
For $2 a minute, callers will be able to leave a voice message, day or night, for the President, vice president and leaders of the House and Senate. Cassette tapes with the messages will be delivered twice a day along with fax messages for any member of Congress, Comyford said. The service will be available in early April from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.