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April 17, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

In striking contrast to the situation in the UK, where British Telecom in general seems to offer whatever (doubtful) value-added telephone services it can get away with and only withdraws or modifies them when the clamour against them gets too intense, in the US, the phone companies are in general a model of straitlaced morality waging bitter battles against the pornbrokers with one arm tied behind their back by the first amendment to the constitutional, which is the one enshrining freedom of speech. Pacific Bell has stepped up its efforts against merchants who use its lines to offer dial-a-porn services by filing suit in federal court, seeking clarification of its right as a private business to disconnect 976 service providers – 976 is the dialling code, not the number of merchants peddling audioporn – who carry sexually explicit messages. This action follows more than four years of attempts to stop dial-a-porn services being carried across its lines. The most recent move before this suit was to allow customers to block all 976 numbers from their phones, free of charge. The lawsuit names a number of dial-a-porn companies operating in California as defendents. It was filed within hours after the California Public Utilities Commission told the company that it could act as a private business in this matter. Our previous legal efforts have failed, said the company, but we’re trying again because we want to do everything we can to solve this problem. We’ve listened to our customers. We know parents are very disturbed about dial-a-porn, and so are we. Pacific will send notices to all 976 providers of sexually explicit messages advising them that the company believes it has the right to disconnect them and that it is seeking clarification of that right in federal court. A suit against Carlin Communications Inc was dismissed last May after the state utilities body told Pacific it could not disconnect some 976 services according to their content. In December, a US District Court judge said Pacific could not disconnect dial-a-porn vendors as a result of claims they provide obscene or indecent messages. The Pacific Bell lawsuit filed late last month claims that the company has the right as a private business to refuse 976 service to dial-a-porn companies because they are damaging its reputation. In related action, Pacific Bell also said it will refund $2 to the approximately 200,000 customers who have been charged to block access from their home phones to 976 messages. The company also said the Commission agreed to delay a proposed new service that would create three new prefixes under a 900 area code as an interim measure pending clarification of the company’s rights.

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