AT&T Gouging U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

by Bruce Stewart

Tom Evslin's Fractals of Change has posted an explosive piece about the way AT&T is handling their exclusive contract to install payphones in Iraq and how much they're charging American soldiers to call home. Would you believe twenty one cents per minute??

As Tom points out with the going wholesale cost of voice minutes under a penny per minute, this seems very, very wrong. Tom also notes that the total amount of money we're talking about here is a drop in the bucket for a company like AT&T. It's mind-boggling to me that the execs at AT&T don't realize that the poison PR they could suffer over this is not even close to being worth the cash they're making. If the issue gets more mainstream coverage I wouldn't even be surprised if it comes into play as regulators consider the BellSouth acquisition.

AT&T is also reportedly blocking access to 800 numbers of other carriers, which would be illegal in the U.S. Tom does mention that some other sources say AT&T isn't blocking those numbers, but adding high surcharges to those calls. In either case, it's shameful.

The Prepaid Press first reported the story back in January and has stayed on top of it, as the FCC and DoD dodged the issue, and now the American Legion is getting involved.

40 Comments

stu
2006-03-09 21:21:22
Can't they use Skype?
AlonFW
2006-03-09 21:38:51
Is this really gouging?
As a point of reference I checked Verizon's rates from CA to
Iraq .98
Iran .61
UAE .41
Kuwait .51


so .21/min is at least half off, and possibly as much as 80% off.

Jeremy
2006-03-09 21:42:15
Sure, wholesale minutes are easily purchased for less than USD$0.02/minute, but you still need Internet connectivity. Lets say they use VSATs over there. Last time I checked, you are looking at about $10,000/month for 20mhz of bandwidth, which equates to about 4mbit of bandwidth. Add to that physical security, shipping costs, and maintenance.


Suddly $0.21 doesn't sound so crazy, does it?

James Hassinger
2006-03-09 22:04:06
Why don't they make laptops available, with Skype on them? I bet ebay would gladly donate the time for free.
Ronald B.
2006-03-09 22:19:36
They can't just give it for free, can they? AT&T is a business, maintaining these lines cost money. Sure, we all want the soldiers to be able to communicate back home, but c'mon.
Varun
2006-03-09 22:23:26
Right...!!!
Why dont you have another Article with the headline "US Govt. gouging US soldiers of their lives in Iraq."
I guess in this capitalist nation, saving 10 cents on every minute of calling is more important than 2000+ lives...
Kurt
2006-03-09 22:30:45
21 cents a minute, to run and maintain phone lines in a country where all westerners, regardless of their status are targets - and get their fucking heads sawed off? How much do you think it costs to hire rambo telco techs, anyway?


Give me a break. You try running a business in a hell hole like that.


Anon
2006-03-09 22:37:13
I don't know about this AT&T deal but soldiers right now either use webcam and IM (while internet access is decent at the bigger bases, it's still too unstable for voip), or they use the military's phones to dial back to the States, then from there dial their calling card numbers at U.S. rates. What's all the fuss about?


So um, can we stop the sensationalism?

James
2006-03-09 22:48:40
If I may point out. If, as usual for ATT they are still relying on the US Military to provide the manpower, equipment, Microwave, Satellite conectivity etc just like they always do it's a HUGE ripoff. Basically the path that belongs to AT&T doesn't even start until it hits US shores. Any SatCom will be Military. Any Wire/fibre will most like be Cable and Wireless or one of the European competitors. AT&T Doesn't get involved until it breaks out of one of the main com heads. I might also like to point out that these young men and women work 24/7 with no days off for months at a time. Their pay and compensation works out to less than minimum wage for most of them. They buy their own uniforms and often their own equipment, like the little things Uncle Sam forgets. (Ask a female soldier about menstral needs and meeting them in a war zone.) Would it really be too much to ask all of you liberal republican types to consider just what it is to be asked to put your life on the line without your daddy to cover your butt for just a minute. If AT&T where to set the price, give the dang phone calls to these young men and women for free (granted with moderation to provide equal access), then write it off, they'd still come out ahead. But no, it seems you can't have anything get in the way of money. Not friends, country or honor. *sigh*
Brendon Carr
2006-03-09 22:57:18
Good grief! Twenty-one cents a minute for international calls from the war zone and *still* they get accused of gouging. Back in my day (waaay back in 1989-1994) it was inconvenient and very expensive to stay in touch even from Korea and Japan, and forget about it when haze grey and underway. Screw Tom Evslin. God bless AT&T for making communications available to our soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (AT&T 550 Global Prepaid), and even to sailors and Marines at sea (AT&T Prepaid Ship-to-Shore Calling Cards).


I'm a business traveller now, but when I'm on the road I make sure to always carry at least one 550 Global Prepaid card and one Ship-to-Shore card. Never know when one will stumble across some fine young person doing our nation's work who could use a call home. Troll the public phones at any international airport: There is always some kid in a desert camouflage uniform on those phones. Skip the officers and find a Private, Specialist, Airman, or Lance Corporal (look for the 20 year-olds). Their salaries are pretty low and an extra $20, $50 or $100 always comes in handy.

YesItIs
2006-03-09 23:49:23
Whoever asked "is this really gouging" when you have an American based company cheat soldiers out of benefits for cheaper calls, then I question the nationality of "stu". He's either:


A) Anti-American
B) Self-Hating American
C) Canadian.


:)


Realist
2006-03-10 02:16:15
I don't understand this debacle about internet censorship and phone prices for serving soldiers. I'm surprised frontline forces are allowed to call home at all, for many reasons I dont want to raise here, but private profiteering has always been frowned on. The thought of those oily little pencils at AT&T making a buck on this is disgusting, they should be taken out the loop, calls home forbidden and the chaps told they can write letters home instead. Its a war not a vacation right? Get some perspective.
Marine
2006-03-10 05:11:59
It used to be $0.50 a minute. So that's an improvement I guess.
Nick
2006-03-10 06:37:39
how the heck is this gouging? They have hundreds of other ways to communicate, and how in the world would they be allowed to use public telephones anyway, everything i ever read was that they are monitored close.
IwasinIraq
2006-03-10 06:47:34
AT&T was a rippoff when I was in Iraq. MCI provided free calling from Iraq to everyone during holidays but they couldn't provide service for a fee any other time. It was cheaper to get an Iraqi Cell phone and call home plus you got free incoming calls.
Bad Syntax
2006-03-10 07:14:50
I don't think its a matter of what is charged, but how accessible the phones are to the soldiers in the field. All the calls really should be free for any deployed soldiers to call home. The thing is, I bet the average grunt on the ground doesn't have much time or ability to make these calls, more likely its the guys in the rear areas who don't put their life at risk daily who can actually call home daily.


FYI, I just got out of the Army (as infantry) a year ago, 2 weeks after my unit went to iraq (disability saved me a year in iraq).


Bad Syntax

navymom
2006-03-10 07:29:43
Bless you Brendon Carr. As the mother of a US Navy soldier, I challenge each of you to heed his words and make a difference in this way. Send care packages. Everyone knows someone who has someone over there. My son deploys for a second round to Kuwait in May. He leaves behind his wife and two little sons. Make a point to make a difference. If each one of us did what Mr. Carr makes a point of doing, the impact would be incredible. God Bless us all as we try to understand it and sort it out. Remember our soldiers in whatever way you can.
Devin
2006-03-10 07:51:49
You should see what the _Iraqis_ have to pay for a long-distance telephone call. It might be better now, but when I was there, the only options were Kuwaiti cell phones (really only in the south) and satphones at a dollar or more a minute. We're talking about a country that has less _electricity_ now than before the war. Why should the telephone network be reconstituted to let soldiers call home cheaply and frequently?
john
2006-03-10 08:30:59
How about we charge them 21 cents a minute to stay in the country... SCREW AT&T
skypinator
2006-03-10 08:38:02
why not setup public skype or some other voip station?? even if soldiers are forced to pay, it'd be hecka cheap....and skype is wonderful service
Oh, please
2006-03-10 09:22:53
Give me a break. I'll have to agree with AlonFW 100% here. They're getting a significant discount. What, do you want them to provide the service for free, or perhaps under a government subsidy? Oh, I don't think people reading this article like that word. Tisk, tisk.


And what's this "with the going wholesale cost of voice minutes under a penny per minute" load? If you look at the source article ("Tom Evslin"), his assertion that it's under a penny a minute is a complete fabrication. He cites no sources, and admits that he is speculating on the price. In reality, he has no idea what the true cost of a phone call is in terms of it compensating for operating capacity, especially overseas. There are international land lines that must be maintained, routers that must be preserved in a war zone environment, etc..


I'd like to see realistic estimates here from the source before I'll begin to believe that the significant discount they are recieving is somehow a rip-off. Can anyone provide that? And what do you think about civillians in that area being charged as much as twice that amount? Aren't they getting even more ripped off?

EricW
2006-03-10 10:05:40
Simple!
Put your life on the line for your country &
Little things like a call home should be free for the men over there earning little for thier effort.
JC
2006-03-10 11:16:39
You think with all the technology out there the government would give these soldiers the right to call there home at pennies per munite. These soldiers are giving up their lives for our freedom.


-Veteran-

Holic
2006-03-10 11:33:39
Look It may not be the perfect system and it sucks the soldiers are getting screwed on phone service but Varun makes a good point about focusing on the wrong thing. I'm not a fan of the war either but likeminded people needed to stop grasping at straws for more reasons why the war sucks. Focus on the real problems, we have enough of em.
Psumoni
2006-03-10 11:50:07
I am in Iraq. Right Now.


My options to call home are:
#1 - AT&T Phones: Sometimes laggy, sometimes poor connection, expensive. Also the phone trailer smells terrible inside.
#2 - MWR VOIP Phones (Available in most posts): $0.01/minute, small lag, connection quality is pretty darn good.
#3 - Government DSN phones: $0.00/min, no lag, very good connection quality. Requires you to call a military operator nearby your intended phone number, and have them forward it, also requires that your DSN phone work to call out. You can also call 800#'s to use a regular phone card using non-surcharged "US->US" calling rates.
#4 - Iraqi Cell Phones: Yes, they exist. I do not know the pricing for them, and coverage varies based on what towers the terrorists are destroying at the time, but pretty good coverage on-post.
#5 - Webcams/Internet voice chat: $0.00 - Available at most MWRs on most posts.
#6 - Thuraya (Satellite Phones): Very expensive, but coverage is everywhere.


So why does anyone use AT&T? Good question. My only guess is simply that people do it because the phone cards are sent by family and friends, or the soldier doesn't know about the other, much, much cheaper options available to them.

wesley
2006-03-10 13:45:18
well nice job, it looks like you shut everyone up! haha..j/k, its good to know you guys have free service over there in some form, i have a couple good buddies of mine over there...Keep on doin what yer doin and good luck to ya!
Psumoni
2006-03-10 14:51:39
In case any soldiers are here who don't know how to use the DSN to phone home, look up the operator of a local military installation in the DSN Directory:


http://www.disa.mil/gs/dsn/dsn_directory.html
- Don't forget the preceeding 312 for most bases in CONUS. (OCONUS 315)


Call the operator for the base nearest your home. Some systems are automated, and have you talk to a computer. Just say "OPERATOR" loud and clear, and you'll get somebody who can connect you. If you don't get the pleasure of repeating yourself several times to a machine, just use whatever option gets you to an operator (usually the 0 button). Some bases may have a fully automated MWR line set up that will connect you. Some installations have a time limit on the call, but an operator-routed call *should* be unlimited.


If there is no military installation that is a local call from your destination phone number, a recruiting station with a DSN number nearby your home might be capable of forwarding your call.


The only disadvantage to using DSN is that usually the DSN phones are in a location where privacy isn't as good as a phone booth. Well worth the trade-off in my opinion.

Jettavito
2006-03-10 14:53:28
Being in the military for 7 years, I have never received any kind of deal when it comes to making a phone call. On deployment, it costs a dollar a minute for long distance. Even in the US, Soldiers and Sailors are being ripped off, left and right. I'm glad that someone has finally brought this into the spot light.
Ex-Ranger
2006-03-10 16:29:43
I spent over 4 1/2 years in the middle east during my time in the US ARMY, and yes, they do rip us off, whether its the exspensive calling cards, or the minute by minute pay as you go, its a shame that we didn't get paid well enough for what were doing, and still , charged high prices for phones calls. 30 minute phone calls fly by, especially when youv'e been traveling in the hot desert for over 8 hours...
Brent
2006-03-10 18:41:35
This is not just a horrible abuse of power, if it's true. Soldiers, sometimes just out of high school are fighting for who knows what halfway around the world. When I was that age, I was in college, only a hundred miles from my family , and to think of not being able to contact them would have been bad, but I knew that every day was definately not my last. These brave people could have their life taken at any time, a 20 year old girl died today. Anyway, it should be free for these people to contact their families, this article just shows the greed that some of our larger companies exhibit.
mike
2006-03-10 22:21:40
Maybe this goes to show that someone disagrees with President Bush's war he started. He might become filthy rich after this war but I doubt the people will see any type of money but rather more debt.
Anon
2006-03-11 09:59:42
If you're still whining about how the soldiers are getting ripped off, then you're not reading the comments made by people who were actually deployed recently. There are plenty of inexpensive options for communicating by voice available now. In fact, conditions on the main bases in Iraq are in many ways much nicer than the conditions on-post soldiers live in back home.


If my spouse lived in the same area as my post back home, then I'd be able to call for free. As it was, my girlfriend lives somewhere else, so I just bought 200 unit AT&T cards for about $15. When I wasn't using Yahoo IM or IRC chat.


It's not bad at all.

TOM G
2006-03-11 16:02:00
Yes this an outrage. The soldiers do not make a lot of money, and still need to pay other things at home also. AT&T would not go broke if they offered the phone service for cost. Come on. Think about it, what if you were in there shoes. 10 times the price of cost is an outrage. What if we all stopped using their services by May the 15th if they did not change it. I bet they could afford it then, huh.
Patrick
2006-03-11 19:19:10
There is far too much profit in war, period.
Lcpl
2006-03-17 22:30:04
As a marine in iraq right now i think it is a little rediculous. before i got here i didnt know you had to use at&t. so i spent tons on cheap global calling cards. now that im here i cant use any of them. and as for how dangerous it is to set up phones in iraq. give me a break you know how much those people get paid. A heck of a lot more than me thats for sure. dont believe me look it up. its kind of sad. personally i think it should be free.
Chief
2006-04-05 10:36:11
You have to to pull your head out of you butt if you think that we're not getting ripped off. Web-cams are not allowed because they eat up the bandwidth. All comms go down for days because of operational security all the time. The only reliable means of communication is the AT&T phone center. Are you telling me me should just suck it up and pay those rates just so we can tell our loved ones we are O-Kay, wish our daughters good luck at a dance contest, or find out if the bills are getting paid on time. Get a grip, I am not asking for a free service just something affordable.
Kaleb
2006-04-21 10:23:48
HOOAH!
Soldierswife
2006-05-04 15:46:32
MR Realist- You'e the biggest jerk I have ever had the displeasure of reading. Not call family during deployment. Are you implying we speak of army tactics and the next move we plan on making?
You idiot. We are back at home supporting our loved ones fighting for your freedom and you want us not to talk. Not to let each other know everything is okay. Not to hear each others voices. Your ignorant.
John Jangula
2006-05-18 10:15:29
This is just a continuation of AT&T practices. I first saw this in Bosnia in '96 and it continues today. Many Army officers and I avoid AT&T products/services because they have taken advantage of deployed soldiers and soldiers' families. Not this soldier!

2006-05-18 12:08:06
you fucken sick people, 21 cents a min to a soldier fighting for your punk ass including your family. your out of your minde go to hell tom