Remember pre-paid calling cards? We do, but just barely. In a world where a “phone call” is automatically assumed to be made on a cellphone, the mere mention of a pre-paid calling card takes us back to the good ol’ days when payphones weren’t an endangered species and mobile phones were still a fairly rare luxury. Since then, pre-paid calling cards have followed payphones into obscurity. Nevertheless, Washington D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles is broaching the issue with a lawsuit against AT&T. The lawsuit seeks a court ruling on whether or not unused calling card balances can be considered unclaimed property which can be recovered by the owner.
Calling cards, for those of you not familiar with the “technology,” are credit card-sized cards imprinted with an account number and a toll-free phone number. You’d buy a calling card for say, $15, with which you could make $15 worth of calls. Calls were placed by dialing the toll-free number, entering your account number, and dialing the phone number you’d like to connect to. The call would be connected by a third-party, charging a certain amount for each minute of a phone call. You could even refill calling cards – or, more specially, the account linked to your calling card – from time to time. It’s a hassle that we thankfully don’t have to deal with anymore – there are pre-paid cellphones for that.
The problem, according to Nickles, is that there are a lot of calling cards with 5%-20% of their initial balance left unused – a situation known as “breakage.” He wants AT&T to be held accountable for that breakage. The lawsuit against AT&T, if successful, would force the carrier to consider breakages in the same way the federal government considers unclaimed money. That would leave AT&T with a court mandate to repay all breakage balances.
With the veritable extinction of calling cards, we can’t really see this kind of lawsuit helping the consumer all that much. If anything, it’s going to be a pain in the ass for AT&T.