In a move intended to end so-called phone-sex services over its lines, AT&T has decided to stop paying companies for calls placed to their “900” numbers. If AT&T’s decision is approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), all companies who offer a 900 number service will be affected. AT&T charges callers 50 cents per call to the 900 numbers and pays from 2 cents to 5 cents per call back to the suppliers of the recorded messages.

The 900-number service is used for several purposes, including public opinion polls, sports results, and consumer tips. It became popular, however, with pornographers, and AT&T has been receiving complaints from parents and antipornography groups about its use for phone sex.

The company’s decision to stop paying suppliers of the recordings will cut off the source of income for those suppliers, thus making the service unprofitable for pornographers, as well as for other companies who provide the 900-number service.

“We’re especially troubled by reports that children can reach these messages,” said AT&T vice-chairman Charles Marshall. “Eliminating the economic incentive for adult-message sponsors should help solve the problem.”

Although AT&T is clear about who the action is aimed at, Director of Public Relations Frank Ovaitt stated that his company has a “sacred responsibility to the nation for the freedom and privacy of communications. We don’t monitor those calls. We’re not censors.”

The reason AT&T cannot simply refuse to offer the 900 service to pornographers is because it is subject to FCC regulations prohibiting public utilities from selectively refusing service to customers.

AT&T’s ...

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