Vintage Phone Rental Costs More Than A Honda Civic

Phone companies have been in the news a whole lot recently, whether it be about the regulators demanding they lower their prices or the competition they face from VOIP like Skype and Gizmo.  It seems like "profit" is a dirty word, in fact, and certainly not one you'd feel comfortable mentioning in the boardrooms of AT&T or Bell South.

Still, it seems like they're clutching at straws a little: an 82 year old widow in Canton, Ester Strogen, has paid more than $14,000 in rental fees for use of two AT&T rotary phones over a period of 42 years.  Apparently around 750,000 customers currently rent sets from Lucent Technologies (which is the companies leasing service arm), down from 40 million back in the days when it was simply too expensive to own your own.

At $29.10 a month, this is a guaranteed money spinner for the big telcos.  In fact, you can buy a brand-new phone from BestBuy.com for just $9.99, made by... you guessed it, AT&T.  They rely on the fact that few people – especially the elderly – will check through their statements and spot the rental charge amongst the standing fees and itemised calls. 

AT&T insist that bills are clearly marked and that the benefits of leasing include "free replacements and the option of switching to newer models"; at the risk of sounding facetious, $349.20 – the yearly fee – would buy a lot of new phones!

Adding some comic relief to the situation is Ester's reaction to her new, push-button phone: "I'd like to have my rotary back, I like that better."

Widow Rented Rotary Phone for 42 years [SFGate.com; thanks to Sam for the tip]