Remember the bad ole days when telephone bills were outrageously high for no good reason? There baaaack!

According to new research put out by the Utility Consumers' Action Network, UCAN, telecom bills are not only creeping up faster than weeds in the garden; it's so subtle most customers nor the FCC can keep up with the increases.

I wrote an article for this site last year advising small businesses that they should hire outside companies that work on commission only to "weed" through their telco bills. There are big savings likely to be found. The FCC conservatively estimates that 30 percent of all bills have errors.

In addition to "errors", this new survey shows rates and fees have been going up dramatically in recent years.

Here are some nuggets of note from its findings:

- Directory assistance charges: up 1500%.

Cheap solution: tell your employees to use the phone book, look up numbers on the Internet and then save them in their phone to avoid the time and/or cost of looking up the same numbers again.

- Call waiting charges: up 346%.

Cheap solution: dump it. That's what voice mail is for anyway.

- Long distance calls are up, on average, 55 cents a minute.

Cheap solution: Hire that outside company to earn their commission wading through the complexities of your long distance plans and maximize your dollars. Consolidate accounts and negotiate with a carrier for better terms. Consider Skype or VOiP, as an alternative. Use e-mail or instant messaging, instead, where it makes sense.

All of this requires getting your employees on board and actually making a concerted effort to change their phone habits. Make a contest out of it, offering prizes to the biggest cost-cutters.

Instead of framing it as just another penny-pinching campaign "by the suits"; frame it in a way that means something to them.

Just like many companies are forming employee-led "green teams" to motivate staff to conserve and recycle for the benefit of the environment; form a "back in black" employee-led team to motivate staff to keep the organization economically lean and mean through what I now call "the hard times".

It may prevent a layoff or two down the line. Now, that's something worth taking the time to pick up the phone book!