Iwakuni phone-plan policy rankles some
July 14, 2004
IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — Under a restricted telephone-calling plan, some station Marines living in barracks pay at least 13 cents a minute to call home using a calling card.
Others, including married Marines, pay half that amount through an unrestricted calling plan that lets them call long distance from their home phones.
The restricted plan keeps long-distance bills in check, especially for junior servicemembers with limited incomes. The base is responsible for any unpaid bills.
But some Marines say the limitation isn’t fair.
Like many Pacific bases, Iwakuni offers residents three calling plans: unrestricted calling for local or long distance, which features 6-yen-a-minute calls to the United States; restricted on-base DSN-only calls; and a third option that allows on-base calls and toll-free calls in Japan, but no long distance. Callers with this plan must purchase calling cards, which are more expensive per minute to the States.
All three plans allow dial-up Internet connections and the use of prepaid military phone cards that require only a DSN line.
Most servicemembers at Iwakuni can pick their plans. But for single Marines who are sergeants and below in Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, command officials decide for them. Most are limited to the restricted, more expensive plan.
The reason is simple, said Capt. Stewart Upton, base spokesman.
Unrestricted calling plans put some Marines at financial risk. In one case, a young Marine ran up more than $1,400 in phone charges in a month, officials said.
“A phone with unrestricted long-distance access in the barracks environment is much like leaving a loaded gun unattended,” base officials said in a written statement. “It is very high-risk.”
The rule went into effect in 2000. At the time, most delinquent bills came from the barracks, said Chief Warrant Officer Chad LaSuer, telephone officer for the S-6 communications department.
In a written statement, officials said commanders created the rule “based upon a comprehensive review, but focused on two primary factors: (1) past payment performance of Marines and sailors that resided in the barracks and (2) the damage that high unpaid bills did to the individual Marines.”
Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 also requires Marines to have approval from their command before getting a phone but, the unit lets Marines decide with some counseling, Upton said.
Married Marines and those from other commands do not need command permission to get phone service.
“If you’re from any other unit, you just show up and fill out an application and show your ID,” La- Suer said.
He said the two commands, not the phone office, established the rule. “I don’t make any restrictions on anybody,” he said.
Some Marines complain the arrangement isn’t completely fair. In a June 11 editorial in the base newspaper, The Torii Teller, Lance Cpl. Ruben D. Calderon complained that he is paying for the mistakes of previous Marines and asked base leaders to create a prepaid calling option that provides the same low-cost long-distance rates for restricted callers.
Meanwhile, the number of Marines with restricted plans has been increasing in the past year, LaSuer said.
“Most of the letters have been [restricted] lately,” he said.
But base officials say the policy is having the desired effect. Only a small portion of delinquent bills are now from H&HS.
At least 100 bills are late each month, LaSuer said, and about half are accounts in family housing. Still, in family housing one person is responsible for the bill, whereas in a barracks roommates can blame each other for charges.
In response to Calderon’s editorial, LaSuer wrote a letter to the editor clarifying the rules on calling plans and reminding Marines that the military phone service is unique.
The phone office covers unpaid bills, and when bills are late, the office must track down the individual’s command.
“It’s an administrative burden on us because we have to notify the command,” LaSuer said.
Unofficial calling plans
A look at the unofficial phone (residential) calling plans for Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station:
All three allow DSN calls including the DSN access number for $20 military calling cards. There is a $7.75 fee to switch from one plan to another. Call the telephone office at DSN 253-5555 with questions.
• Plan 1: Only DSN calls at Iwakuni. Good for people who don’t make calls to Japan or overseas. Can be used for Internet dial-up service.Cost: $26.01Number with this plan: 200
• Plan 2: Restricted calling. Can call DSN and toll-free Japanese access numbers, for commercial calling cards. No long distance.Cost: $36.48Number with this plan: 150
• Plan 3: Unrestricted calling: Can call DSN, local calls in Japan as well as long distance, for 6 yen a minute to the United States.Cost: $36.48Number with this plan: 1,700
— Juliana Gittler