WASHINGTON — MCI Communications said Monday that it will no longer handle billing for 900-number telephone sex lines.
MCI was the only one of the big three long-distance companies that still offered billing for the calls.
The No. 2 carrier's decision could cut deeply into the sex-line business. Such services will have to rely on smaller carriers or handle their own billing for calls routed through major carriers.
American Telephone & Telegraph Co. said it has not handled billing for adult phone lines since 1987. The No. 3 carrier, US Sprint, has never done so.
Callers to sex lines and other 900-number services pay a fixed price for the call or are billed by the minute. Phone companies bill customers for the calls along with other long-distance charges.
Spokesman Jim McGann said the sex lines that had used AT&T left when the long-distance giant stopped handling their billing.
"We just don't have these services on our network," he said. "We're happy to see another player in the industry has adopted these standards."
US Sprint has never billed customers for calls that provide an "explicit or implicit description of sexual conduct," spokeswoman Robin Pence said.
Spokeswoman Pam Small said the MCI policy would cover programs and advertisements, either recorded or live, "that offer sexual stimulation or sexual arousal."
Eugene Eidenberg, MCI's executive vice president, said the new policy was designed to "protect consumers and comply with our legal and regulator obligations as a common carrier."
Federal laws prohibit long-distance companies from refusing to carry calls for adult 900 services unless they are obscene or violate a law.
But the companies are not required to handle the billing. They have faced growing criticism for their refusal.
The long-distance firms will continue to handle calls for other kinds of 900 services, including those aimed at children. Each, however, restricts the cost of calls to children's services. AT&T and MCI have a $4 limit and Sprint a $3 limit. AT&T also limits the number of calls that a 900 service for children may accept from a particular telephone.