The 700 Club

2 minute read

IS THE NEW SCHEME AT&T ANNOUNCED LAST WEEK A blessing or a blight? Those who can’t bear to be out of touch will love the company’s new EasyReach 700 service, which gives subscribers a lifelong telephone number that is assigned to the person, not to a particular phone line. Those who think the telephone is already too intrusive will probably want to reach out and touch someone with a baseball bat.

The new service, which AT&T considers a forerunner of future phoning patterns, is simple. Anyone who signs up — there are about 6 million subscriptions to go around — gets a new number with a 700 area code. Subscribers pay $25 up front and $7 a month after that. Then the number travels with you forever. Visit Aunt Martha and your calls will follow you into her parlor. Move to a new neighborhood or a new state — keep the same number. All it takes is 27 digits punched into the nearest phone, and calls made to the 700 number will be routed there by AT&T’s computers (that may seem excessive, but some people now have to enter 28 numbers to make a long- distance credit-card call). The caller pays 25 cents a minute for long- distance during peak hours and 15 cents off peak, comparable to most current rates.

If it sounds like the existing service known as call forwarding, it is, but with some important differences. With call forwarding, it’s the home phone that has to be programmed to send calls on — a lot less convenient for travelers. And it forwards all calls, while the new service forwards only those calls made to the 700 number. Better still, it’s possible to limit 700 calls to those who get a secret password from the subscriber (in this case, it’s the recipient who gets billed, not the caller). Unfortunately, the new service retains one drawback of call forwarding: if the user forgets to cancel a phone’s programming, the 700 calls will keep ringing long after he or she has moved on.

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