Bell Says There's Nothing It Can Do About Dial-a-porn's Free Samples

Posted: October 12, 1988

Bell of Pennsylvania yesterday said that some dial-a-porn firms have decided to provide some very cheap thrills over Bell's phone lines by providing free access to sexually explicit taped messages that once cost about $2 a call.

Although the phone company went to great lengths to prevent these entrepreneurs from making their messages available to children for a fee, there apparently is nothing it can do to prevent children from listening for free, Bell spokesman Tom Duddy said yesterday.

The numbers have not been advertised, but are being shared by people who phone the so-called gab-lines, which allow groups of strangers to chat with one another over the phone, according to an anonymous caller who brought the existence of the free lines to the attention of the phone company on Monday.

Some of the gab-line firms also have established numbers that can be called free of charge.

Employees at one of the firms that offer the free dial-a-porn lines, Sapphire Communications of Pennsylvania Inc., referred questions about the services to the company's New York lawyer. The attorney did not return repeated phone calls yesterday and Monday.

The phone company has determined that at least five firms are using no- charge lines to provide dial-a-porn and party-line services, but was able to contact only one, Duddy said yesterday. Duddy said that firm, which he would not identify, told Bell it was using the free number to drum up business for its billable services.

In response to widespread consumer complaints, the phone company in August assigned a special exchange to dial-a-porn and party-line services. Previously, the services, which are part of a wide array of what the phone company calls audio-text services, ranging from dial-a-prayer to the latest stock quotations, all could be reached via phone numbers with a 976 exchange. The controversial dial-a-porn and gab-lines were assigned to a 556 exchange that could only be reached by Bell customers who asked in writing to have access to them.

As a service to the firms that provide the messages or information, Bell bills its customers who dial the 976 or 556 numbers, then passes on what it collects to the firms. Bell charges the firms a fee for the billing services, and so shares in the profits the calls produce.

But, according to Duddy, there is no way a customer can be billed for calls to the new numbers, which carry 471 and 474 exchanges serving Southwest Philadelphia.

The company believes calls to the dial-a-porn numbers are being routed to telephone-answering machines that simply play back sexually explicit messages when a connection is made.

"If you want to put a message on your answering machine, there's nothing we can do about it," Duddy said yesterday.

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