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The Cutting Edge | 411 / A Consumer Look at Telecommunications

Glitch Puts 11,500 Unlisted Cox Numbers 'in the Book'

May 25, 2000|ELIZABETH DOUGLASS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What price privacy? Cox Communications and about 11,500 of its San Diego phone customers are about to find out.

Because of a software glitch, the unlisted phone numbers of many Cox customers in San Diego were recently published in Pacific Bell phone books and made available to directory assistance operators.

Cox, a cable company that also sells local phone service in San Diego and Orange counties, said the problem was discovered in early May, after several customers complained to Cox that PacBell's new white pages directory included their supposedly unlisted phone numbers.

The company said 11,455 local phone customers in the San Diego region had their names, addresses and phone numbers--or some variant of the three--included in the directories by mistake. Cox estimates that roughly 25,000 of its 33,000 phone customers in the region asked not to be listed.

Cox offered each of the affected customers a new phone number and 120 minutes in prepaid calling cards (for notifying people of the number change) or a one-year complimentary package of privacy-related features such as caller ID and selective call rejection.

PacBell halted distribution of the directories involved, but 400,000 of the 1.3 million books had already been delivered in the southern and eastern parts of San Diego County. The company also removed the unlisted numbers from the databases used by directory assistance operators.

Cox said it had discontinued use of the software that caused the problem and had instituted additional reviews of data sent to PacBell. State regulators are reviewing the incident, but it's not clear whether any other action will be taken.

The upshot: Consumers who worry about maintaining their privacy while on the Internet should not overlook the need to keep close tabs on what phone companies do with their data. Asking to have a phone number kept private doesn't always make it so.

PacBell price hikes: The state's largest local phone company has proposed a series of price increases that--if approved by state regulators--could leave millions of Californians with sharply high phone bills.

Beginning June 2, PacBell will raise the monthly fee by 5% to 23% for many of its discount service packages, which have been sold aggressively by the company for several years under names such as "The Basics" and "The Works." The packages typically include a mix of add-on phone features such as call waiting, caller ID and other extras.

The price of four of the company's service packages will jump by $3 per month--up to $27.90 for the most expensive offering--while the price of two other packages will increase by lesser amounts. Gain for PacBell: $1.17 million in additional revenue per year.

Yes, there's more: PacBell is raising the per-minute price of local toll calls under its Saver 60 and Saver Plus residential calling packages. Starting June 2, the cost of extra toll-call minutes for Saver 60 customers will rise to 7 cents from 6 cents. The per-minute cost under the Saver Plus plan will increase to 6 cents from 5 cents.

Is a penny a small thing? Not for PacBell, which will gain $2.18 million in additional revenue on Saver 60 and $2.54 million extra for Saver Plus--just for the last six months of this year.

And more: PacBell on June 2 will increase the per-use price of Call Return, Repeat Dialing, and Three-Way Calling to 95 cents, up 27% from the current 75 cents. Revenue gain for PacBell for the rest of the year: $3.33 million.

In addition, PacBell will increase the monthly price of its residential WirePro maintenance insurance plan for inside wiring to $1.99 from the current $1.20 per line.

*

Times staff writer Elizabeth Douglass can be reached at elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com.

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