GTE will sever its billing relations with three companies and has fined 11 more for excessive customer complaints under its new customer complaint program;third-party complaints reduced by more than 30

WASHINGTON -- GTE Network Services' Wholesale Markets today announced that it saw a 30 percent drop in customer complaints about third-party carriers since initiating a customer satisfaction campaign in Feb. 1997. The first quarterly review resulted in GTE severing its relationship with three companies and initiating financial penalties or fines against 11 companies along with an action plan for improving future service and reducing complaints.

GTE provides billing and collection support for more than 60 third-party carriers for services ranging from long-distance and wireless to information services. GTE won agreements from more than two-thirds of its third-party carriers it provides billing for to establish a complaint threshold that, if exceeded for three straight months, would require the carrier to develop an action plan for reducing complaints. Failure to comply could include a fine or if one company's complaints continued to exceed that level, its contract with GTE could be terminated.

According to GTE, most customers want the convenience of one bill for their telecommunication services and GTE acts as the middleman between our customers and the other companies.

"We're very pleased with the program and the resulting reduction in complaints by our customers indicating greater satisfaction with the third-party carriers' services," said Christine VanSkyhock, senior market manager - GTENS Wholesale Billing Services. "It's been gratifying also, at how readily most of the carriers agreed to work with GTE and to keep customer satisfaction high."

GTE Proposed Policy Change to Reduce Cramming

GTE is working to change its policy to only allow telecommunication and information-related charges after Jan. 1, 1999. If adopted, GTE would discontinue charging for non-telecommunications items, such as "club fees" or "membership fees" for psychic or sports chat lines. At the same time, GTE would begin requiring independent third party verification of any new service that goes on a GTE local bill other than long-distance services.

"We feel that these steps will go a long way towards eliminating cramming and customer confusion," VanSkyhock said. "Our goal is to make billing and ordering telecommunications services as easy as possible for our customers while reducing the possibility of misunderstanding or fraud.

"GTE Network Services is also standardizing all the terms used on its bills to make it easier for our customers to understand what they are being billed for. This will also reduce customer confusion. We feel strongly about delivering the best service possible to our customers with an easy-to-read bill."

GTE Network Services operates as a local telephone provider in 28 states. The wholesale markets group is responsible for third-party carriers whose services are included in local telephone customers' bills.

With 1997 revenues of more than $23 billion, GTE is one of the world's largest telecommunications companies and a leading provider of integrated telecommunications services. In the United States, GTE provides local service in 28 states and wireless service in 17 states; nationwide long-distance and internetworking services ranging from dial-up Internet access for residential and small-business consumers to Web-based applications for Fortune 500 companies; as well as video service in selected markets.

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