4 major carriers offer free calls, texts to Japan

To help U.S. residents cope with the disaster unfolding in Japan, AT&T and Verizon are offering to ease one of the roadblocks to international communication: its often-high costs.

The nation's two largest wireless carriers both said they were waiving some charges retroactively to Friday, the day of the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. AT&T's free calls and texts - including up to 60 minutes in free calls from U.S. landlines - will continue all month. Verizon said its waivers would last till April 10, and would include all calls to Japan from U.S. landlines.

One caveat: AT&T customers will be billed for the landline calls, but may then request a credit.

AT&T said:

Effective beginning last week, March 11, and continuing through March 31, AT&T wireless postpaid customers will not be charged for:

  • International long distance usage from the United States and Puerto Rico to Japan
  • Text messages to Japan, originated from a U.S. wireless number

In addition, and also effective March 11 through March 31, residential wireline customers can seek credits for up to 60 minutes of direct dial calling to Japan:

  • Upon receiving their wireline bill, customers may call AT&T to receive adjusted calling for up to 60 minutes. In other words, no charges for up to 60 minutes of call time from the United States to Japan between March 11 and March 31.

For any of the above activity, customers will either see no charges reflected on their monthly statement, or they will see a full credit applied to their statement for activity between March 11 and March 31.

Verizon said:

All Verizon Wireless post-paid customers will receive free calling to Japan from March 11 through April 10. Post-paid customers are those who receive a monthly bill from the company. In addition, Verizon Wireless post-paid customers in the U.S. will receive free text and multimedia messaging to Japan for the same time period. ...

All calls made from a Verizon residential landline to Japan will be rated at $0.00 per minute, from March 11 through April 10. Customers with Verizon World Plan (300, 500 or unlimited minutes of long-distance calling) can call Japan without using any minutes from their time-allotment blocks.

Additionally, Verizon Prepaid Phone Card charges for all long-distance calls placed to Japan from the United States will also be waived from March 11 until April 10. ...

* Only long-distance usage charges associated with calls made from residential landlines terminating to wireline or wireless destinations in Japan will be waived from Mar. 11 - April 10. All other fees including taxes, surcharges, monthly recurring charges (MRCs), minimum spend levels (MSLs), monthly minimum charges (MMCs), etc will continue to apply. Post-paid calling card charges to Japan will also be waived.

** If long distance calling fees were charged, credits will be issued in a future bill statement.

If Sprint and T-Mobile follow suit, I'll update this post.

[Update 1] Sprint says it will offer a similar waiver, also affecting calls and texts since Friday and continuing through April 10.

"We’re doing it because it’s an important thing to do for the community - for people who need to get hold of friends and family in Japan," said spokesman Scott Sloat.

[Update 2] T-Mobile, for now, isn't joining in with free communication to Japan. "We are still evaluating the needs of our customers," said spokeswoman Patty Raz.

[Update 3] On Tuesday, T-Mobile joined the other major carriers, saying it was offering free calls and texts to Japan, and also applying the waiver retroactively to the day the earthquake struck. You can see its announcement here.


Jeff Gelles

Consumer & technology writer

Philadelphia Inquirer

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