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Getting money for nothing



Time for another Gooberhead Award, presented periodically to those who've got their tongues going 90 miles an hour but have forgotten to put their brains in gear.

Today's Goober could go to an entire corporation, AT&T, but Ma Bell's general gooberness got one-upped by Brain Adamik, a telephone-industry stock analyst. I'll get to Adamik in a moment, but first let me set the scene with AT&T.

The long-distance company once urged us all to "reach out and touch someone," but now it's making sure that it touches all of us monthly -- in the pocketbook. Associated Press reports that up to 20 percent of AT&T's 70 million customers are just not making enough long-distance calls to satisfy the company's profit habit, so it will start charging you $3 a month, even if you make zero out-of-town calls. Never mind that you already pay a basic service charge every month; now you will actually have to shell out three bucks more for not using the service.

Behind this greedy grab for the gold is a general corporate trend -- taking place in everything from airlines to banks to sports franchises -- to shoo-off us regular customers in favor of upscale, heavy-spending elites. Which brings me to Mr. Adamik, who smugly defended the phone company's rip-off by proclaiming, "AT&T doesn't want to be the service provider for little old ladies with tennis shoes. They want to be the company that provides a range of services to profitable customers."

Hey, Brian, I really feel the pain of a corporation that raked in more than $4 billion in profits last year, much of it from those "little old ladies" you make fun of.

AT&T should take its $3 minimum charge ... and shove it.

What next? Safeway can bill us for not buying enough groceries, the electric company for not pumping enough kilowatts into our house, Exxon for not buying enough gas?

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