Newspapers To Get 900-Number Money

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Revenue from dating and other personals ads that use 900 telephone numbers soon will be flowing again to newspapers from MCI, according to assurances from the carrier and a major voice-personals provider that relies on it for billing and collecting.

Money collected by MCI between May and mid-July has been frozen by the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of the carrier’s parent, WorldCom Inc. Revenue collected after July 21 will be distributed normally, MCI has told Tele-Publishing International (TPI), the Boston-based voice-personals provider for some 700 newspaper clients. In addition, attorneys representing the 900-number industry went to court late last month asking for release of the frozen revenue.

The voice-personals industry has been watching the WorldCom bankruptcy proceedings anxiously because MCI soon will become the sole national carrier billing and collecting for 900 numbers.

AT&T Corp., the only other carrier that had a significant 900-number business, stopped taking new accounts in January and will get out of the 900-number billing-and-collecting business altogether at the end of the year. WorldCom’s bankruptcy is not tempting AT&T back into the business, Public Relations Director Jean Hurt said: “It was not a growing business. Profits and revenues are declining, and we’re seeing a lot of technology substitution. People have a lot of other sources for that information.”

MCI is telling voice-personals providers that it is staying in the billing-and-collecting business. “There’s no reason for them not to be in it,” said TPI President David Dinnage. “For one thing, the amount they charge [for 900 numbers] is several times higher than any other service. An 800 toll-free number costs you around 2 cents a minute. A 900 number is nine times that amount.”

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