In Maine, people are panicky. In Connecticut, they're confused. Texans are overwhelmed but in New Hampshire, they've hardly noticed.
The American Telephone & Telegraph Co. divestiture has hit every state in the union a different way. The only consensus appears to be a general expectation that never again will things be quite as good or as cheap for telephone users.
'If you are a heavy user of long distance, you are going to get a reduction and think it's a great policy,' said Indiana Bell division manager Norman Cubellis. But, he added, 75 percent of Bell's customers make less than $11 worth of long distance calls a month. 'You've got the bulk of people paying for a few people to benefit,' he said.
In some states that message already is ringing loud and clear. The new year ushered in rate increases that will hike basic monthly service charges 18 to 35 percent a month in Missouri. It was the largest approved in the 50-year history of the Missouri Public Service Commission.
In California, consumers will be paying two new surcharges that will add about $1.75 to the $39.35 average monthly bill. In Oregon, Bell customers will be paying an average $2.58 a month in increased fees. In Kansas, bills will go up about $1.35 a month.
A 5.2 percent rate hike took effect for Illinois Bell customers. In Pennsylvania, the new year hikes ranged from 12 to 62 percent. Residential customers in Richmond and Norfolk, Va., will see monthly service rates jump from $11.79 to $15.22.
In other states, pending rate requests are giving consumers the shivers. Southwestern Bell filed a request in Texas last summer for a $1.3 billion rate hike that would cause local rates to double if granted in its entirety.
In Mississippi, South Central Bell asked for a $131.4 million increase that would hike residential bills about 14.6 percent.
Public utility commissioners said they felt like pawns of the courts and federal agencies that arranged divestiture. 'It was the most bitter pill I ever had to swallow,' said South Dakota PUC chairman Ken Stofferahn after his commission granted Northwestern Bell a total of $9.6 million in rate hikes last month.
In Texas, the commissioners said they and their staffs were working 16-hour days trying to cope with divestiture-related issues. 'The record in this case is pitiful' said commissioner Peggy Rosson. 'I don't know how we are ever going to come up with a final figure.'
The phone companies are being imaginative in their search for new revenue, asking for hikes in everything from the cost of pay phone calls to directory information.
In Illinois, it will now cost 80 cents to get an operator to verify a line is busy and $1 to break into a call for an emergency. In Virginia, Chesapeake and Potomac is raising installation charges for residential customers from $49.99 to $74.35.
In states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and Virginia, pay phone calls will rise to 25 cents, although Pennsylvania callers will get more time to talk for the money.
The loss of the 10-cent pay phone call was a particularly bitter blow to Mississippians and Arkansas consumer groups are geared up to protect their dime calls from a similar fate.
States with extensive rural areas are worried about customers in remote territory that is particularly expensive to wire and service. In Nevada, some estimates project 300 percent hikes in the phone bill for some residents of the 'cow counties.' good or as cheap
While Congress appears ready to quash plans for national across-the-board hikes known as access fees, many of the Bell companies are pressing for statewide versions to compensate them for connecting consumers to long-distance service.
In Washington, for instance, phone users will be paying Pacific Northwestern Bell a $2 a month access fee in the new year.
Most phone companies say the wave of the future is some sort of measured service, in which customers pay according to the number of phone calls they make, the time of day they make them, and the local area they're calling. Consumers, however, tend to prefer flat rates they can anticipate each month and some states are resisting fiercely the measured service idea.
In Indiana, the legislature has banned such a system in the past, and though the prohibition expires in April, some observers expect the lawmakers to reinstate it. Several Maryland state legislators have filed bills that would prohibit any measured service system.
Consumers who lease their telephones will discover their equipment now is the property of AT&T, which recently announced new national rates for phone rentals. For New York consumers, the change will slice rental fees almost in half. But leasing costs will rise in states like Maine and New Hampshire.
'People are getting very anxious,' said Dean Stearns, a New England Telephone Co. spokesman in Portland, Maine, where customers swamped switchboards in their eagerness to buy their phones before divestiture rather than pay the new fees.
In New Hampshire, however, there has been little reaction. 'For all the major changes, no consumer group has formed yet,' said Sarah Voll, chief ecnomist with the New Hampshire Public Utiltiies Commission. 'I think the realization will come with the first bill.'
Consumers who come into the old Southern New England Telephone Phone Center stores now are asking more questions about service than their broken phones, said salesman Ken Good., whose Milford, Conn., outlet now boasts the post-divestiture name of Sonecor Communications Center.
A number of the most bewildered will even ask the salesman what to do with their old AT&T stock.
'I usually tell them to keep it,' Good said.