More budgeted for landlines than needed

Tanner Cole

WKU has about $140,000 budgeted for long distance phone calls in the 2014-2015 academic year, but only spent about $86,000, resulting in an approximate $54,000 difference. 

The decline of long-distance call funding is a success story, and its origins stem largely from use of cellphones and similar technology. 

Long-distance phone calls are a simple line item on each department’s annual budget. In the past 10 years, the total amount of all those line items steadily decreased. In 2005, WKU spent about $150,000 on long distance calls. That number has dropped by over $60,000, according to data provided by Director of Communication Technologies Jeppie Sumpter.

“That [$86,000] is a big number no doubt,” Sumpter said. “But this place is the size of a city.”

Funding comes from plenty of places and WKU employees can’t really adjust much of its use, including things such as grant money. When looking at unrestricted funds only, the amount WKU is choosing to spend on long distance calls is $29,084.77 according to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Ann Mead.

“Those of us with cellphones are more likely to pick up our cellphone than to use our desktop,” Mead said.

But after a decade of declining costs, the budget still only reflects about $10,000 of that shift. Spread out over hundreds of departments is about $50,000 budgeted for a cost that is continually dropping each year.

On a departmental basis, the declining cost of long-distance calls isn’t much, but when looked at on an aggregate level, those differences start to add up.

“They just don’t go through the process of saying that they know they’re going to have more to use for something else,” Mead said. “That’s why the budget and the actuals don’t align. I think it’s reasonable that each of them go back in and recognize that their phone bill is less, but they don’t do that.”

WKU’s dorms used to provide long-distance services to students, but cellphones made the service virtually obsolete. The dorm service was discontinued about three years ago.

Over the past several years, efforts to connect the various WKU campuses have allowed most calls between each to qualify as standard calls and bypass extra spending.

Modern alternatives to traditional cell services such as video conferencing and web communication are implemented in places that they make sense to be used, Sumpter said.

Sumpter and Mead agreed that the biggest difference have been cellphones. 

Landlines are absent in the homes of 53 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The biggest spender in long-distance calls is the annual fund. which includes the TopperTalk call center. The annual fund has a yearly budget of $15,000 for long distance calls, 17 percent of the university’s total long-distance spending.  

Soon, WKU is planning on switching its primary service provider from AVAYA phone systems to Cisco-based systems. 

Sumpter and others in WKU telecommunications believe the shift will further decrease long distance spending.