Why your phone bill may be set to rise

For AT&T and Sprint customers, the cost to "reach out and touch someone" becomes more expensive this month. Other companies, like MCI WorldCom, may be hiking phone bills soon, too.

The Federal Communications Commission recently raised the amount that long-distance carriers are required to pay into its Universal Service Fund (USF), which the government uses to help make phone service available to libraries, rural schools, and underserved communities.

Carriers, of course, have passed the fee along to customers - but to varying degrees. AT&T raised its USF surcharge for residential consumers from 8.6 percent to 9.9 percent of interstate and international long-distance bills. Sprint raised its rate to 9.6 percent; business customers can expect a rise from 6.6 percent to 7.5 percent.

Why the difference in price hikes? Some carriers absorb a larger percentage of the added USF costs than do others, according to ABellToll.com, which offers information on long-distance plans.

One key lesson: Don't be taken in by advertising touting "lowest rates." One plan may charge fewer cents per minute than another, but end up costing more per month because it includes greater USF charges.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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