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‘Don’t Care’ Now? You Might When Telephone Bill Arrives

July 12, 1996 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) _ You’re in Houston and you need help calling Dallas. The local telephone operator asks you to pick a long-distance company.

Caller beware.

If your answer is ``I don’t know,″ ``I don’t care,″ ``It doesn’t matter,″ or ``Whoever,″ you might end up paying a few extra bucks when the telephone bill arrives.

A company in suburban Fort Worth has trademarked those phrases as names of long-distance carriers whose rates for operator-assisted calls are about twice those of major companies.

``It’s not deceptive at all,″ said Dennis Dees, 38, president of KT&T Communications Inc., the holding company for the curiously named subsidiaries.

Dees, who claims the corporate name is only coincidentally similar to that of monolithic phone giant AT&T, is candid when asked about the prices he charges and the way his company attracts customers.

``There’s nothing here to be defensive about. I’m charging a fair price compared to the market price for my product. I’ve come up with a name that’s pretty creative and it’s successful for us. There’s no reason to be embarrassed.″

Indeed, officials say the operation is legal. More than 800 or so long-distance operator-service companies registered with the state are unregulated.

And although KT&T prices are high _ a three-minute call from Houston to Dallas costs $7.64 _ they’re not the highest around. DNSI Inc., for example, charges $9.70 for the same operator-assisted call. The AT&T rate is $4.63.

The Texas Public Utility Commission said it’s aware of Dees’ companies, which are registered with the state, but added that there’s nothing officials can do but warn consumers to be careful.

``In the age of competition it’s extremely important for customers to find out about the products and services they’re using,″ said PUC spokeswoman Ann Roussos. ``Ask questions and be responsible consumers.″

Neither the PUC nor the Better Business Bureau has received complaints about KT&T.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the bureau agrees with what Dees is doing. John Riggins, president of bureau’s Fort Worth chapter, said his office is opening an inquiry into the firm.

``It doesn’t meet the BBB standards for advertising,″ Riggins said. ``It doesn’t give everybody all the information they need to make an informed decision. From a bureau standpoint, that’s the problem.″

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Dees, who has run small long-distance firms since 1984, decided to add a few businesses last year and brainstormed with a business partner to come up with new names.

Their choices were driven by the fact that about 97 percent of all people pick a long-distance carrier _ usually the major companies _ by name when an operator asks, Dees said.

``Of those other 3 percent, some of them will say `I don’t care,′ some will say `I don’t know,′ or `It doesn’t matter,″ he said. ``We tried to cover our bases.″

Dees refused to say how many calls his companies processes but said I Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Matter stay the busiest.

``I Don’t Know is not particularly successful,″ he said.

Dees claimed there are at least two lines of defense to be sure customers know with whom they are dealing.

First, Dees said, the local telephone operator tells the customer that he’s being connected to a company called I Don’t Care. The operator answering at I Don’t Care then says the full company name.

``When they do it correctly you’ve been warned,″ Dees said. ``You’ve only been made aware that we exist, which is the reason we designed the names that way.″

But it doesn’t always work that way. In several calls from The Associated Press, a reporter was connected at least once without that information. In one case, an I Don’t Care operator answered: ``IDC, may I help you?″

Dees said those instances are rare and promised he’s working to eliminate them.

``As you can imagine, they’re human and you can’t get them all to follow procedure,″ he said.

KT&T now operates only in Texas, Dees said, but he has considered branching out to California and Florida.

As for his rates, Dees said his costs, as a small company, are so much higher than AT&T that he cannot compete with its prices. The handful of customers who complain about the rates each month are given rebates, he said.

``We’re not trying to pretend to be anything we’re not,″ he said. ``We are I Don’t Care.″