Telephone Bribery

a radio commentary for broadcast on Jefferson Public Radio's The Jefferson Daily
Tuesday, August 26, 1997
(c)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: Commentator Fred Flaxman has always thought of himself as an honest person. Once, when he lived in Chicago, he even turned down the opportunity to "fix" a speeding ticket. (On second thought, that might not count since the bribe requested was higher than the fine.) But Fred's beginning to wonder just how uprighteous he really is. Perhaps he hasn't been truly tested... until now.

FLAXMAN: A few days ago I received a check for $100 from AT&T. By signing and cashing the check, they noted in very small print, I would be switching back to their long-distance telephone service.

I have been using Working Assets Long Distance (WALD), the nation's only socially responsible long-distance telephone company, and I have no complaints about their service or costs. My family and I receive calls from across the country and as far away as France that are as clear as though they were made next door. Furthermore, WALD pours more than $2 million in profits each year into nonprofit causes which I support.

But, hey, $100 is $100.

On the other hand, not only does it sound like a bribe for switching services, it appears that I can be bought for only $100!

But, then again, $100 is $100, and I'm not a millionaire.

This is not the first time I've faced this moral dilemma. It is the fourth time. The first three AT&T "incentives" were a mere $50 each and I was using Sprint at the time. They countered AT&T's offer with $50 worth of $10, monthly discount coupons applicable to Sprint bills. But WALD doesn't play these games, so this time, if I turn down AT&T's 100 bucks, I'm turning down 100 bucks that I'll never see again.

And $100 is $100. That ain't chicken feed. Besides, as everyone knows, charity begins at home.

But how much does AT&T charge for long-distance calls? That's a subject they seem to avoid. All they tell you in the letter which is attached to the check is that their rates are "competitive." For all I know they lose the competition every time.

In any case, this time I was just about to give in to AT&T's tempting offer when I read an article in Common Cause magazine about how the large communications companies bribed the Democratic and Republican parties into supporting the recent telecommunications bill which they were so anxious to see pass.

According to the article, a week after House Republicans had declared the bill "dead as Elvis," AT&T gave the Republican National Committee $200,000. Congress then gave final approval to the legislation and President Clinton signed it into law.

Well AT&T might be able to buy the Republicans. They may be able to buy the Democrats. They may be able to buy the President of the United States of America. But they can't buy me.

At least not for $100.

This is Fred Flaxman.

HOST: Commentator Fred Flaxman is a writer and editor who lives in the Griffin Creek area of Jackson County.