MCI provides free calls for troops

Telecom provider MCI is providing free telephone calls from military personnel in Iraq to friends and family back home. The free calls became available this week and will end Jan. 5.

The company, which is still waiting to learn if it will be banned from new federal contracts, is also distributing prepaid calling cards and reducing calling rates for other military personnel.

"When you can't be home for the holidays, a phone call can lift your spirit and ease your mind," said Jerry Edgerton, senior vice president of MCI Government Markets, in a statement. "MCI is proud to help bring families together this holiday season, especially for the service men and women defending our country."

For service members in Iraq, MCI has calling locations at strategic military sites in the country. Each call center will have more than 45 phones and military personnel will be able to make free calls around the clock. The centers will be connected to a network MCI built in Iraq specifically to support morale phone calls.

The company also is providing 93,000 100-minute prepaid calling cards to military support groups, to Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical centers and to troops passing through Baltimore-Washington International and Atlanta Hartsfield airports.

The General Services Administration is considering debarring MCI from federal contracts, primarily because the company overstated profits in 2002 in a scandal that led to the removal of top officials and to the company's bankruptcy. Edgerton has maintained that the federal division had no involvement in the scandal and that the company has taken steps to prevent a recurrence.

GSA officials began considering debarment in August. A GSA spokeswoman said the agency expects to make a decision soon, possibly before the end of the year.

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