Hold the Phone, Californians! Bell Atlantic Ends Confusing Long Distance Bills

Hold the Phone, Californians! Bell Atlantic Ends Confusing Long Distance Bills

Patent-Pending SmartTouchsm Technology Gives Consumers Complete Control Over Long Distance Spending

May 11, 2000


Maureen Flanagan,

Kelly Sullivan,

(media contact May 11 - 12)

NEW YORK - Help is here for those Californians thrown for a loop by whopping long distance bills.

Beginning today, SmartTouchsm from Bell Atlantic Communications, Inc., can give California consumers complete control over their long distance spending. Bell Atlantic Communications, Inc., is the Bell Atlantic unit that provides long distance service to consumers.

With SmartTouch, consumers buy long distance time in advance with their credit card and deposit it into their SmartTouch home phone line account. Since customers set their own spending level, they know exactly what they are paying for each long distance call and never have to see a monthly bill.

SmartTouch customers pay a low flat rate of just eight cents a minute for state-to-state, direct-dialed calls from home with no monthly plan fees. Long distance direct-dialed calls within California are just five cents a minute, anytime. And there are no extra digits to dial like "10-10" dial-around services or prepaid calling cards.

"SmartTouch is the first truly innovative approach to long distance in years," said Maura Breen, president and chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic Communications, Inc. "SmartTouch puts consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to managing their long distance spending. Plus, we are giving consumers a great rate with no hidden fees. It doesn't get any simpler."

The eight-cent-per-minute rate includes all government-required taxes and surcharges except the monthly long distance access fee -- which Bell Atlantic is waiving through July 31 of this year -- so customers can save even more. Bell Atlantic's long distance access fee is currently $1.47 per line per month.

How SmartTouch Works

Keeping track of calling time and expense is easy with SmartTouch, which uses patent-pending technology. A voice prompt at the beginning of each long distance call says exactly how much money is in the customer's account and the number of minutes available for the call. A prompt at the end of the call gives them the remaining balance in dollars. Only the customer can hear the account status information on the call. Customers also can dial "0-0" (zero, zero) from their home phone to get an account balance anytime, day or night.

For example, a customer who purchases $10 of calling time in advance places a direct-dialed long distance call from California to New York at eight cents a minute. After dialing the phone number, the customers hears the SmartTouch voice prompt say there is $10 in their account and 125 minutes for the call ($10 divided by .08 cents per minute equals 125 minutes).

Once the called party hangs up, the voice prompt reports how much money remains in the account for the next call. So in this case, if the call lasted 25 minutes, the customer would have $8 left.

A voice prompt during the call alerts customers when their account balance is getting low. SmartTouch money remains in the account until the customer spends it.

SmartTouch gives customers round-the-clock access to their account balance and call activity via www.mysmarttouch.com or by dialing "0-0" from their home phone. Customers can add more time to their account 24 hours a day via credit card by dialing "0-0" and following the voice prompts or by calling Bell Atlantic customer service at 1-888-599-0107. All purchases are posted to the customer's account immediately, so there is no waiting time before making calls.

In coming months, consumers will be able to set up automatic payments to their SmartTouch account on the first of the month or every time the account reaches a certain balance.

SmartTouch also has a feature which allows customers to place calls "Away From Home," even from a pay phone, by dialing an 800 number and entering their phone number and a secure PIN (personal identification number). These state-to-state, direct-dial calls are 25 cents per minute. The amount of the calls is deducted from the customer's SmartTouch account just like calls they place from home. But unlike many calling card plans offered by other major long distance companies, SmartTouch does not add a per-call service charge to its away-from-home feature - even if the call is placed from a pay phone.

SmartTouch Has Broad Appeal

SmartTouch appeals to household managers, international callers, people on fixed incomes - literally anyone looking to get a handle on monthly expenses. To order the service, customers can visit Bell Atlantic's SmartTouch Web site at www.getsmarttouch.com or by calling toll-free 1-800-552-5133.

Household managers - SmartTouch enables household managers to manage their long distance budget for the entire month. Best of all, you pay when you are ready to pay, not when the long distance company tells you to pay.

Retired/fixed income households - Living on a fixed incomes can mean cutting back on household expenses, including phone calls to loved ones. SmartTouch means you are never caught off guard by surprises on your phone bill.

International callers - Frequent calls abroad can mean out-of-control long distance phone bills, but not with SmartTouch. By purchasing long distance in advance, you can take advantage of the some of the best international rates advertised by any major carrier.

Customers managing credit - SmartTouch enables families and individuals managing their credit to get long distance service without paying a hefty deposit. With SmartTouch, anyone can get great rates by depositing money in their account.

Visually impaired - With SmartTouch, callers hear their account balance before a call is placed, and during the call, a voice prompt tells them when their balance is getting low.

Bell Atlantic is exploring creative ways to educate consumers about SmartTouch. A key element of the company's strategy is its marketing agreement with iVillage.com, the Internet's leading women's network. As part of the relationship, SmartTouch information will appear in targeted iVillage.com Web pages that focus on parenting, money matters, working from home and managing debt.

"Featuring SmartTouch on iVillage.com provides value to the millions of women who visit our network each month," said Candice Carpenter, chief executive officer of iVillage.com. "Our audience juggles busy schedules and manages households so they are women who are looking for information that helps simplify and enrich their lives. We believe SmartTouch meets that need."

International Rates Beat AT&T's 'One Rate'

SmartTouch offers great rates for Californians who frequently make international calls, especially to Asia or Latin America. The per-minute rates are available anytime, day or night, are not promotional or short term and have no monthly plan fees.

Examples include: 15 cents to directly dial Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea; 16 cents to Taiwan; 34 cents to China; 14 or 30 cents to Mexico (depending on where you call); 23 cents to the Dominican Republic and 29 cents to Columbia. And like the domestic rates, SmartTouch international rates include government-required fees and taxes except the monthly long distance access charge.

Once again, with SmartTouch, there are no extra digits to dial, so customers who use "10-10" dial around numbers or prepaid cards for international calls can simply pick up the phone and dial "011" and the country code plus the number to make calls at very competitive rates. In fact, SmartTouch rates are priced below AT&T's "One Rate International Value Plan" for the most frequently called countries.

Another Hot New Long Distance Offering from Bell Atlantic

SmartTouch is the brainchild of Bell Atlantic Communications, Inc. and United States Advanced Network, Inc., an intelligent network and enhanced voice services provider based in Atlanta, Ga.

SmartTouch is the latest Bell Atlantic long distance offering to hit California. In March, the company introduced its popular e-Valuessm Calling Plan which offers some Californians dramatic savings on state-to-state calls compared to heavily advertised plans offered by major long distance companies.

E-Values is available to consumers who sign up at the Bell Atlantic long distance Web site, www.callbell.com. California customers pay only five cents a minute on weekends and nine cents a minute during the week for state-to-state, direct-dialed calls from home. In-state long distance calls are five cents a minute on weekends and seven cents a minute during the week.

Bell Atlantic -- a voice and data communications company based in New York City - launched its long distance service in January in New York. During the first quarter of the year, 428,000 New York consumers chose Bell Atlantic Communications long distance.

Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With more than 44 million telephone access lines and more than 20 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 23 countries.