Bell Atlantic double-bills customers Charging for 2 years' ads called programming error


A computer glitch led to the double-billing of 5,200 Bell Atlantic Corp. customers for advertisements in the three new Baltimore-area telephone books, a mistake the company promises to fix by next month.

The new books came out in late October and early November, and the problem affects advertising in the white pages, not the Yellow Pages. Customers owed refunds are businesses, and a few individuals, who pay extra to have their white pages listings in boldfaced capital letters or surrounded by a blue border to make them stand out.

Beginning Nov. 8, customers were getting monthly bills that included both the tab for their ads in the 1996-1997 books and the charge for their ads from last year's books, which had not been purged from Bell Atlantic's computerized billing system.

"I hate to say it, because it's such a cliche, but it was a computer error," said Stephanie Hobbs, spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic Directory Services in Bethesda, which publishes 235 regional directories in Bell Atlantic's service area, which includes six states and Washington, D.C. "It wasn't properly programmed and didn't [remove] the 1995 billing the way it was supposed to."

The company charges $75.25 a month for a blue-bordered boldfaced listing, the most prominent ad in the white pages. Hobbs said Bell Atlantic discovered its error "at the tail end of our billing cycle" and will give a credit for the overcharging in the January phone bills. Customers who want to get the credit sooner can call a Bell Atlantic office.

"They don't have to do anything but wait for their January bills, basically," Hobbs said, adding that most of the affected customers have not complained about the error, many probably because they didn't notice it. "They trust us to do the right thing by them. And they're right."

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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