About 3,000 businesses and individual consumers can expect their phone bills to rise now that a flat-rate long-distance company has closed shop.
Ohio Direct Communications Inc., which was based in Salt Lake City and served Northeast Ohio, ceased operations July 31 after nearly three years of litigation.
It offered customers a flat rate of, perhaps $20 a month, to place up to 200 long-distance phone calls, regardless of the length of the calls.
Ohio Direct based its computer equipment in Hudson, which has local calling access to both Akron and Cleveland. Customers in Akron could dial an Ohio Direct number in Hudson, enter a personal identification number and then dial a Cleveland number toll-free.
Ohio Direct's closing came after All-Tel/Western Reserve Telephone Co. complained to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. A PUCO commission last year sided with All-Tel and ordered Ohio Direct to register with PUCO and become a certified telephone company and negotiate appropriate compensation among itself, All-Tel and Ameritech Corp.
PUCO spokesman Dick Kimmins says it's unclear what effect the Ohio Direct case could have statewide. "That has yet to be determined," he says. "This affects only one company, but it could be used as a precedent ... Each cases rises and falls on its own."
Kimmins adds that if another company buys Ohio Direct's customers and equipment, PUCO would expect it to comply with the same registration and compensation demands.
Ohio Direct had 2,500 customers in Akron and Cleveland and 500 customers in the Columbus area.
A spokeswoman for Ohio Direct says that adhering to the PUCO's decision would have cost 10 to 20 times more in operating costs. "Because Ohio Direct was the first business of its kind in Ohio, it was the first one targeted," she says. "Now, new companies know what to do and what not to do."
Open and shut ... and open?
Jeff Spaeth doesn't quite know what to tell his customers. His family's 15-year-old store, The Wicker Co. in Hudson, sent mailings to customers last year, announcing it was closing, along with a "liquidation sale."
Frantic customers were told that the wording was a mistake, that the Norton Road store was closing "temporarily for remodeling."
The store did close last January, however, after Spaeth couldn't negotiate a new lease for a smaller space.
Spaeth continues to operate a 6,800-square-foot store in Canton, which he says "picked up a lot of business" from the other store.
When the Hudson location closed, "there were hopes it was going to reopen and there's hope that might still happen," Spaeth says.
The company, which still rents the back portion of the building, has been negotiating with the landlord to scale back to less than a third of the 26,000 square-foot space he had.
"It was just too big," he says. "It was becoming a day-after-Christmas business. It just wasn't viable."
If it does reopen-and Spaeth should know by year's end-he could hold a grand reopening sale. Or management could stick to its original "temporary" story.