AUGUSTA — Maine telephone customers can get New England Telephone Co. to block access to 900-number toll calls free for 90 days, an NET spokesman said Monday.
NET received numerous complaints from customers who said they were being hit with unexpectedly high phone bills because of calls made to various 900 numbers, said phone company spokesman John McCatherin.
Most of the complaints were about calls being made to pornographic “adult services,” and other complaints came from people whose children were calling cartoon characters, rock stars, Santa Claus figures and television heroes.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission also received a significant number of complaints, said the regulatory agency’s administrative director, Charles A. Jacobs.
“There’s a fairly slick come-on on TV; the child watches it, and all of a sudden the customer has a huge phone bill,” said Jacobs. Calls generally range from 50 cents to $10, he said.
NET is giving customers 90 days, beginning when they receive their current telephone bills, to ask the company to block 900-number access for free. After that, blocking will cost $15, said McCatherin.
Customers who establish service with the phone company will be offered free blocking indefinitely, said McCatherin.
Initially, blocking will be available to customers whose regional NET offices have electronic switching equipment, accounting for about 80 percent of the company’s Maine customers, said McCatherin.
The remaining customers will be offered free blocking for a 90-day period by the end of next year, he said.
All 900 number services currently offered in Maine are to interstate lines. There are no intrastate 900 services available yet, said McCatherin.
The spokesman noted that 900 numbers provide a wide range of services that go beyond sex messages and chats with children’s idols. Such services include devotional messages, sports lines, dial-a-prayer and a range of others.