YOU DON’T KNOW. YOU DON’T CARE. It doesn’t matter. Whatever. If you’re in Texas and about to make a long-distance call from a pay phone, that kind of indifference won’t get you very far—at least not so far as AT&T, MCI or Sprint. What it will get you, depending on how you answer the operator who asks your choice of long-distance carrier, is either the I Don’t Know telephone company or one of its corporate siblings: I Don’t Care, It Doesn’t Matter or, yes, Whatever.
The four telecoms are the brainchild of Dennis Dees of Kennedale, a suburb of Fort Worth, and they’re all part of KTNT—yes, it does sound sort of like AT&T, doesn’t it?—which he founded in September 1995.
Research, says Dees, 38, shows that 97 percent of those who place long-distance calls through operators do name a carrier. That leaves 3 percent, a market chunk he estimates to be worth $15 million a year to an enterprising businessman, like, say, himself. “Of those 3 percent,” he says, “some of them will say, ‘I don’t care,’ some will say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘It doesn’t matter.’ We tried to cover our bases.”
Although the big carriers seem vaguely horrified by Dees’s ploy—”Customers might as well say, ‘I don’t care how much I pay’ or ‘I don’t care what kind of service I get,’ ” snorts Sprint spokesman Larry McDonnell—his creative nomenclature doesn’t break any laws. “We’re not charging the highest rates we could,” says Dees. (But not the lowest, either. A three-minute, operator-assisted call between Houston and Dallas costs $4.63 with AT&T; $7.64 with I Don’t Care.)
Buoyed by the possibility that the 3 percent market share might be more than just a Texas phenomenon, Dees is thinking of taking his companies national. “I’m the first to admit our names are a little strange,” he says. “But I don’t apologize for it.”