Task Force to Examine High ACUS Phone RatesBy Shang-Lin Chuang
Information Systems recently formed a task force to investigate alternatives to the Institute's current long distance program.
The AT&T College and University Solutions plan which MIT currently uses charges uncharacteristically high rates, said John P. Mellor G, Graduate Student Council Housing and Community Affairs Committee member.
Sprint's long distance service allows students to make long distance phone calls for 10 cents per minute, significantly cheaper than the 15 cents per minute rate currently offered by ACUS, Mellor said.
"I did a little exploring and discovered that Boston College dormitory residents only pay nine cents per minute" for their phone service, Mellor said.
Calling rates are difficult to compare because of the various restrictions placed on when and where calls can be made under any given rate. "There are some rumors that this is not a totally fair comparison, but at least MIT should be able to offer its students normal residential rates, like 10 cents a minute under Sprint," Mellor said.
"The rates offered by ACUSare more expensive than what a residential customer could get," said GSC Co-chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee Geoffrey J. Coram G.
"Four thousand students should be able to get some kind of groups discounts, or at least a rate that is comparable to a regular residential customer," he said.
Students strive for cheaper rate
Because of the discrepancy in rates, students have devised various plans to receive a cheaper rate. "I live at Westgate, which received MIT's 5ESS phone system and the option to install ACUS last year," Mellor said.
"After comparing, I decided to pay $20 a month to keep the local NYNEX line but pay only 10 cents per minute on Sprint's long distance service instead of ACUS's 15 cents per minute."
Many students "call their friends with ACUS first to make sure that person is in, then call them back with the Sprint phone card" to take advantage of the cheaper rate, Coram said.
"Students should not have to do that kind of nonsense; they should be able to pick up the phone and receive the cheapest rate available to them," he said.
The comparison comes out even worse for international rates. The AT&T True World program is 50 percent cheaper than ACUS True World, he said.
"With the data I collected, I estimate that MIT students are overpaying by about $20,000 a month," Mellor said.
Less than 60 percent of the students living on campus in undergraduate dormitories and graduate residences even have ACUS accounts, Mellor said.
At least 40 percent of the students on campus regularly use something other than ACUSfor long distance calls, and numerous residents in Eastgate and Westgate have retained their NYNEX lines "because it is cheaper to pay $20 for the line and get reasonable long distance rates than to pay ACUS rates," he said.
ACUS contract up for renewal
The current contract with ACUSexpires in July 1997 and has not yet undergone any reviews or re-evaluations, Mellor said.
"MIT has to negotiate a new contract anyway, so it would not be any additional work [to re-evaluate the contract]. It would be really sad if things don't improve," he said.
"This is clearly an issue that needs to be pursued," said Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates. "We need to know and understand the whole picture, then get something constructive going."
Vice President for Information Systems James D. Bruce ScD '60 "acknowledges that ACUS rates are too high," Mellor said. "He seems to be very receptive to looking into other alternatives. He is also confident that we will have something better in place by the end of the year."
The members of the task force were appointed by Bruce and consist of Dennis Baron, director of voice, data, and image networking, Roger A. Roach, director of information transformation service, and William F. Hogue, director of information transformation support.
"It is not clear at this point whether the task force will accept student input and will work as hard as we would like them to work," Coram said. "The results remain to be seen."
ACUS has been the preferred long-distance carrier for the Institute's phone system since its installment in 1989. The current discount structure offered to students is the one that was offered to AT&T residential customers when the contract was negotiated, Mellor said.
Since then, residential customers have been able to receive better discounts, while ACUS members have kept the same discounts.