Image: Strogen and Howell
Michael Balash  /  The Repository
Cinda Howell stands behind her mother, Ester Strogen, holding a phone bill. Howell and other family members were upset when they found out Ester Strogen had been leasing rotary dial telephones for the past 42 years from AT&T.
updated 9/14/2006 8:44:46 PM ET 2006-09-15T00:44:46

A widow rented a rotary dial telephone for 42 years, paying what her family calculates as more than $14,000 for a now-outdated phone.

Ester Strogen, 82, of Canton, first leased two black rotary phones — the kind whose round dial is moved manually with your finger — in the 1960s. Back then, the technology was new and owning telephones was unaffordable for most people.

Until two months ago, Strogen was still paying AT&T to use the phones — $29.10 a month. Strogen's granddaughters, Melissa Howell and Barb Gordon, ended the arrangement when they discovered the bills.

"I'm outraged," Gordon said. "It made me so mad. It's ridiculous. If my own grandmother was doing it, how many other people are?"

New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies, a spinoff of AT&T that manages the residential leasing service, said customers were given the choice option to opt out of renting in 1985. The number of customers leasing phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, he said.

"We will continue to lease sets as long as there is a demand for them," Skalko said.

Benefits of leasing include free replacements and the option of switching to newer models, he said.

Gordon said she believes the majority of people leasing are elderly and may not realize they are paying thousands of dollars for a telephone.

Skalko said bills are clearly marked, and customers can quit their lease any time by returning their phones.

Strogen says she's not a big fan of her new push-button phone.

"I'd like to have my rotary back," she said. "I like that better."

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