The collective groan that comes from Baxter Mailroom at the end of every month should quiet down next year, or at least change tone. A revamped phone rate policy will lower long distance rates.
Until now, Buildings and Grounds has used long distance rates to subsidize every feature of the phone service, resulting in campus rates which are more than double market rates. The campus currently charges students 26 cents per minute for daytime domestic calls and 16 cents per minute at night. Compared to national phone companies which offer rates as low as ten cents a minute 24 hours a day, the College rates are extremely high
Buildings and Grounds Administrative assistant Terry White said that long distance rates subsidize phone services at colleges across the nation. Now the conventional wisdom is moving away from that.
“Long distance should no longer subsidize costs of the entire system,” White said. “I think we agree to that, and it’s the approach we’re going to take.”
According to Vice President Helen Ouellette, administrators began investigating changing the rate plans a few months ago when White brought up the idea of a possible change. “We’re looking at changing those rates, but what we’ve got do is see what are we going to do about income to cover the fixed costs. That’s a job we’re just getting into, and I’m not ready to say at all where that’s going to end up,” said Ouellette.
A January 26 meeting between White and College Council Secretary Bert Leatherman ’00 sped the process along. “We had definitely started the ball rolling in that direction, but that added an impetus to move a little quicker,” said Leatherman.
Leatherman became interested in the issue after receiving three consecutive bills of more than $75.
White emphasized that the college does not profit from phone bills. “We don’t make money, we’re trying to keep this revenue-neutral, in terms of the totals,” White said. “But we want to find a better, more equitable way of collecting those.”
However, to long distance callers who cover the cost of features including voice mail, unlimited local service, call waiting, touch tone service and carrier fees such as universal connectivity current rates seem outrageous.
Horror stories are frequent among students, especially first-years and an inquiry into the general feeling towards the phone rates resulted in at least one indignant voice. “I had an $18 phone call last month,” said Abby Kagle ’02.
Nolan Burke ’02 spent $18 one month calling his girlfriend in Worcester, who he says can call him for five cents a minute. “If any single citizen could get ten cents a minute, you’d think you could do better with a 2000-person school,” said Burke.
Although college rates are higher than commercial rates, they do cover the cost of a total system. At home, the features provided by the College would cost several hundred dollars a year. As an example, White said that he pays $350 in yearly fees for his phone service at home. He says yearly expenses for the campus phone systems total $750,000, or an average of $375 per student.
White and Ouellette both see a problem with the current billing policy, repeating that they are searching for a more equitable and rational approach. “I think it would be more equitable if everybody pays some sort of a fixed fee, so that our heavy long-distance users don’t subsidize everyone else,” said White.
Ouellette added, “The service is not going to look any different, but we’re going to change how we bill for it so that it’s a little bit more rational.”
White and Telecommunications Director Jean Richer will be working on a proposal for next fall. By the beginning of this summer, they will submit their proposal to Ouellette and Provost Stuart Crampton for approval. Leatherman said that the College Council would like to see a rate cut of 30 percent, and is going to investigate the possibility of contracting out the service.
Ouellette said this is not likely, because the college already owns and has invested in equipment, such as a million dollar switch purchased three years ago.
Neither Ouellette nor White knows what the specifics of the new policy will be. White anticipates offering a package deal with certain features, and says long distance rates will not come down to market rates.
“I wouldn’t say long-distance calls won’t pay for some of the other costs, but certainly they won’t pay for all the things they do now. My only real concern is that we cover our costs,” said White.
White does not know whether a different group of students will become upset when they have to pay for more of their phone service then before, but it would not surprise him.
“I think at the moment that people would like to see lower rates. I would hope that the majority of students would rather see it more equitable,” said White. White urges students to share their opinions on the matter with him.
Ouellette guarantees relief to those students who continue to bear the weight of the entire phone service on their monthly bills.
In a February 8 email to Leatherman, Ouellette wrote, “While I can’t say yet exactly what the rates will look like next year, I can promise improvement.”