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Goodbye to Telemarketing! Few Pay Local Calling Fee

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Sept. 13 version of this article incorrectly stated that the transition had already happened. In fact, the transition was scheduled for Monday, Sept. 12, began on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and finished on Thursday, Sept. 15; it did not occur on Sept. 6. It also stated that transferring incoming off-campus calls to restricted dormitory phones was not possible. That fact should have been attributed to IS&T’s Allison F. Dolan, and those transfers did in fact still work, as of Sept. 15.

By John A. Hawkinson

Students can no longer place or receive local calls as part of the basic phone service provided with every MIT dormitory room.

Last Tuesday, Information Services and Technology moved phone service in undergraduate dormitories to a new rate plan, under which students must pay $17 to be able to receive or place local calls, with the free basic service restricted to calls between MIT phones. Phone service in graduate dormitories was switched over last month, on Aug. 22.

As of yesterday, 185 undergraduate students and 568 graduate students had signed up for the full service plan, said Jara Tarasenko of IS&T. That represents 15 percent of the 4900 dormitory telephones, and will generate about $103,000 in revenue for IS&T over the nine months of the year that most students live in dormitories, plus up to $40,000 from summer residents.

IS&T estimates the cost of telephony at MIT at $6.6 million, and apportions $2.4 million of that for analog phone service (as opposed to multi-line digital phones), or $200,000 per month, according to Allison F. Dolan, IS&T’s Director of Telephony.

For the current fiscal year, IS&T will charge MIT $20 per phone per month, of which Housing will pay $3 for dormitory phones. If the number of students who sign up for full phone service next year does not increase significantly, and other factors remain the same, next year’s price could be as high as $23, or $20 for students if Housing continues its present $3 contribution. The price of phone service is calculated by dividing the estimated cost of the entire service by the expected number of users.

Although full service does not cost IS&T significantly more than basic service, the decision to charge students directly arose out of a combination of factors:

 Housing, faced with budget shortfalls from rising energy costs, could no longer afford to pay the existing rate, $5 less than the new rate. Housing now pays $3 for basic service, or pays $3 towards the $20 cost of full service.

 This fiscal year, IS&T raised the Institute-wide monthly analog phone rate by $3.50.

 Federal auditors noticed that IS&T charged Housing a cheaper rate ($1.50 less) than the rest of the Institute, in violation of federal accounting rules.

 Federal auditors required IS&T to begin charging Housing for dormitory networking, at a cost of about $1.1 million per year.

With energy costs expected to rise rapidly again this year, Housing will have even less capital available for unanticipated expenditures.

About half of the 185 undergraduate students who signed up did so in the past week. Most of the graduate students signed up close to, or after, the Aug. 22 switch–over. Students interested in the full service plan may still sign up, but will have to pay a $25 activation fee.

In addition to basic phones not being able to directly receive incoming calls, it is not possible to transfer outside calls to a basic telephone. Basic service phones also cannot use the “tie lines” that directly connect MIT’s telephone system with other institutions’, such as Harvard, Lincoln Laboratory, and Massachusetts General Hospital.