An unlisted phone number may cost you

A Yellow Pages telephone directory

TEXT OF STORY

BILL RADKE: Time Warner Cable has doubled the fee it charges customers for not listing their telephone number in a phone book. You heard that right --
Time Warner has doubled the fee it charges for not doing something. Here to stop my head from spinning is Los Angeles Times personal finance columnist David Lazarus. Hello.

DAVID LAZARUS: Good morning.

RADKE: Why are we being charged for nothing?

LAZARUS: Well this is a beautiful thing, isn't it? They are charging you not to put your name in the phone book or not to give your name out for directory assistance. And then even better -- because that's just a few taps on a keyboard, you know, you're giving your preference and then it's done -- but then they charge you on a recurring basis, which makes no sense whatsoever.

RADKE: A recurring basis because they're continuing to not do anything, so you're getting charged again.

LAZARUS: And that's exactly what Time Warner Cable told me when I said, "How can this be a recurring fee?" They said, "Well, we're giving you this service throughout the month." That is the service of them not doing something as they perpetually not do that thing for you. Well, of course, they can keep charging you for not doing it.

RADKE: Some of us have heard about a fee for an unlisted number. The idea for phone companies is they want their phone book to get used, so it's more valuable for advertisers if you list your phone number. But Time Warner doesn't publish phone books?

LAZARUS: No, they don't. In fact they contract with a rival telecom company, Sprint, to take all of their phone customers, compile them together and then give them to another phone company, which dominates a particular market -- AT&T or Verizon -- and puts it in their directory. So just to recap -- this is a fee to not put your name in a phone book that they don't have.

RADKE: Now to be fair, David, if my having an unpublished number -- whoever's not publishing it -- if that's a value to me shouldn't I pay for it or go somewhere else?

LAZARUS: I would say no and a number of lawmakers agree with me because this is a privacy question first and foremost. You are making this decision to protect your privacy. Why should you have to pay extra for that? Moreover, in the age of blogging, where virtually anybody can be considered a minor celebrity, the notion that you now have to pay to protect yourself from people calling you up day and night -- "Oh, dude, I read your blog" -- that is ridiculous. I talked to a state lawmaker in California, Fran Pavley, who tried to pass legislation that would prevent these fees on privacy grounds, she said the telecom companies, the phone companies, the cable companies, fought her tooth and nail to protect this revenue stream and she had to back off from her bill.

RADKE: He never returns my calls. L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus, thank you.

LAZARUS: Thank you.

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