NAPLES, Italy — Navy officials at the base in Naples are considering adopting harsher penalties for sailors and their families who fail to pay their phone bills on time.

The Naval Computer and Telecommunications Stations, a tenant command of Naval Support Activity Naples, routinely is stuck trying to collect on delinquent phone bills that have cost the command from $30,000 to $100,000, said Sean Flannery, the base communications officer.

The delinquencies have forced the command to impose punitive actions to get sailors and families to pay up, and actions could become more stringent, he said.

For example, if sailors at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, are even one month late, their phone service gets cut off, Flannery said.

He’s thinking of doing away with the three-month grace period at Naples.

“We try to be compassionate and realize that these kids are young,” Flannery said. “And it’s not just enlisted. I’ve had lieutenants, too, who weren’t paying. We try to work with them, but it’s NCTS who suffers because we have to pay the bills.”

Of the roughly 1,200 subscribers for residential phone service, counting both family housing and the barracks, between 75 and 125 customers are delinquent in any given billing cycle, Flannery said. “That seems like a lot, and it is, but it’s also getting better.”

In part, that is because people’s Internet access became linked to their phone service.

Starting May 1, Naples brokered the ADSL service that allows people access to the Internet through the Navy Exchange instead of NCTS — and the connection service is billed directly to subscribers’ credit cards.

In order to get ADSL, residents need to sign up for basic phone service, which through Pentagon authorization, costs all U.S. military personnel $34.68 a month.

Those who don’t maintain the basic service risk losing their ADSL connection. “And with no ADSL, they are more apt to pay their phone bill,” Flannery said.

Unlike at least two other Navy bases in Europe, sailors’ phones in the Naples barracks are blocked from making long distance phone calls. They can only dial long-distance by using phone cards. They can, however, call local cellular phones — which ends up costing them 20 cents a minute and tends to rack up some pretty hefty phone bills, Flannery said. To put that in perspective, he said, calls from base housing to the States costs only 4 ½ cents per minute.

Some sailors had run up thousands of dollars in phone bills, and skipped out on the debt.

“Sailors have had $4,000 phone bills and weren’t paying them,” Bachelor Housing Director Romeo Rojo said.

Final phone bills came three or four months late, after some people already had transferred, and the time and trouble spent tracking them down was not worth it, said Rojo, who doesn’t set the policy but hears some of the junior sailors’ complaints.

Sigonella places no restriction on barracks sailors dialing outside lines. The ability to make long-distance phone calls from barracks is the same as for families who live in government housing, base spokesman Lt. Jonathan Groveman said.

There are no restrictions at Naval Station Rota, Spain, either. To activate a line, sailors pay a $45 deposit, and the $34.68 monthly fee thereafter, base spokesman Lt. Mike Morely said.

NCTS Naples reports delinquencies to commanders, and files a Form DD-139, which allows for the garnishment of wages, Flannery said.

“But we don’t like to do that,” he said. “What if the sailor has a TS (top secret) security clearance? A report of bad debt means they could lose that secret clearance, lose their job.”

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