The Bottom Line / A Higher Calling

Bezeq tariffs. Starting today, there will be no more long distance phone calls, just the two rates - daytime and nighttime. Bezeq's day rate is now 14 agorot a minute (instead of 8 agorot for a local call and 26 for intercity) and the night rate is 2.5 agorot a minute - as it was. Bezeq claims that these price changes are "neutral," meaning they will neither raise nor lower its revenues. Is that so? Bezeq has been trying for some time to lower the intercity rates and raise the price of a local call, claiming all the while that the alteration would be "neutral." But long distance calls are highly price sensitive, while local calls are not. In addition, there is the growing use of the Internet (a local call), while the change would also knock out the many private networks that manage to turn a long distance call into a local one. So in short, Bezeq's revenues will go up and we will end up paying more. In other words, we've been had.

The customer should also pay attention to the minimum charge for a call: 22.5 agorot. So even if the call lasts just 10 seconds, that's a 22.5 agorot charge. Elsewhere in the world, very short calls, up to five seconds, are free. Here, even dialing a wrong number costs you 22.5 agorot. Approving such a high rate for the minimum charge was the gravest omission by the Communications Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee members.

Price tags. A NIS 50,000 fine was slapped on the Blue Square Israel (Co-Op) supermarket chain for misleading consumers. An administrative fine of NIS 400 was charged on each manager whose branch was found to have mislabeled a product. This is not the first time that the Blue Square chain has had its knuckles rapped for pricing a product and then ringing up a higher charge at the till. The last time, in January 2001, the chain had to cough up NIS 95,000 for "non-coordination" found in nine outlets. But how is it that the "non-coordination" is always to the customer's detriment?

It would be interesting to hear today from all those who objected (including journalists) to the price labeling of every product. Without this important labeling, the customer would not have been able to compare prices and to buy knowingly, and he wouldn't have known if he was being had or not. So it was no surprise that the big stores and manufacturers (and all their minions) campaigned so hard against the labeling law. How lucky we were that the Knesset did pass the law in 1998 and brought us to a new era of discerning and thrifty consumerism.

But the law needs some adjustment. The crime of wrongful labeling or misleading should be made a personal criminal offense, because fines make no impression. Only if the Co-Op's CEO Yoram Dar knew that he would be criminally liable in every such case would he personally be up every morning in the shopping aisles checking that the price tags were all correct.