One widow rented a rotary dial telephone for 42 years, paying what her family calculates as more than $14,000.
Ester Strogen, 82, of Canton Ohio, first rented two black rotary phones in the 1960s. Back then, people rented telephones as part of their phone service, and the telephone business was monopolized by "Ma Bell."
Bell was disbanded in 1983 and split into seven smaller companies, and AT&T was given the right to handle long-distance calls and telephone-renting. From 1985 to 1986, customers who rented phones were given the option to continue renting, buy them, or end their agreements.
Until two months ago, Strogen was still paying AT&T to use the phones—$29.10 every three months. Strogen's granddaughters, Melissa Howell and Barb Gordon, ended the arrangement when they discovered the bills.
"I'm outraged," Gordon said. "It made me so mad. It's ridiculous. If my own grandmother was doing it, how many other people are?"
The number of customers leasing phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, said John Skalko, spokesman for Lucent Technologies, an AT&T spinoff that manages the residential rental service.
Benefits of renting include free replacements and the option of switching to newer models, Skalko said. "We will continue to lease sets as long as there is a demand for them."
Lucent said Strogen paid just under $2,000 to rent the two phones from 1985 until they were recently returned. Before 1985, the rental costs were part of basic phone service and not broken out.
Strogen's family estimates her payments topped $14,000 over more than 40 years.
Gordon said she believes the majority of people renting are elderly and may not realize they are paying thousands of dollars for a telephone.
Skalko said bills are clearly marked, and customers can stop renting any time by returning the phones.
Strogen says she's not a big fan of her new push-button phone. "I'd like to have my rotary back," she said. "I like that better."
(info from USA Today, 9/14/2006)