PALLONE SEEKS ANSWERS FROM AT&T ABOUT CALLING CARD PROBLEM IN IRAQ
Says Both DoD and AT&T Must Do Better Job of Educating Public On Best Options
March 7, 2005
Long Branch, NJ --- One day after calling on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) to investigate calling card problems our soldiers are now dealing with in Iraq, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today talked with officials at AT&T about the problem and sent a letter formally asking the DoD Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz to conduct an investigation into how prevalent these calling card problems are in Iraq.
According to AT&T, over 80 percent of calls made at AT&T call centers are made with one of its special military calling cards, the so-called 550-unit AT&T Global Prepaid Phone Card, that charge soldiers 19 to 21 cents per minute. These special AT&T calling cards can only be purchased either on military bases or on the web at the "Army & Air Force Exchange Service" site (www.aafes.com). AT&T says these are the only calls that guarantee soldiers a 19 to 21 cent per minute rate at a call location built by AT&T in Iraq.
"AT&T says an overwhelming majority of our soldiers are using its cheaper military cards, but I'd like your office to investigate how prevalent the problem is of soldiers using other cards that do not give them the best deal," Pallone wrote in his letter to the Inspector General. "If the Defense Department determines a real problem exists, I urge DoD to find a solution that allows other cards to be used at these sites without major penalties that dramatically reduce the amount of time available to our troops to get in touch with their families."
Yesterday, after hearing about the problems military personnel in Iraq are having with some of the calling cards they receive from the U.S., the New Jersey congressman announced plans to ask the Defense Department's IG to investigate contract services provided by AT&T to our troops in Iraq. Today, in his letter, Pallone asked the IG to also explore ways to better educate both the public here in the U.S. and troops in Iraq on the cheapest ways to call home.
"It's important that our troops have access to the best deals possible," Pallone continued in his letter. "To that end, I urge the DoD to explore ways to educate the public about the best calling cards to use, and to warn them about huge problems if they choose to send other cards."
Pallone also asked AT&T to work with military family groups and the New Jersey National Guard to better educate them about the importance of using or sending only 550-unit global card to Iraq so our soldiers get the full benefit of the minutes on the card.
"Both the military and AT&T must do a better job of educating military families and others interested in sending calling cards over to our soldiers that these special AT&T cards are the only cards they should be purchasing for our troops," Pallone said. "The 19 to 21 cents a minute deal is certainly reasonable, but we just need to make sure these are the cards our soldiers in Iraq are using when they call home."
A report in this weekend's Star Ledger cited troop and family complaints that the number of units or minutes advertised on calling cards rarely represents the service provided. They also complain that troops are only allowed to use AT&T calling cards in the call centers and are forced to use a less reliable phone system if they hope to use a non-AT&T calling card. The report cited an example in which the Salvation Army purchased a 120-minute AT&T card at Wal-Mart for $7, but a reporter's call on the card only allowed eight minutes of service before termination.