Getting The Message Straight

Changes in telecommunications laws have opened up the telephone service marketplace. But how do youknow which service is best for you?

you are paying far too much for local service, not because of technology, but because of lack of competition, adds Gusky. In the New York City City area, for example, Bell Atlantic/NYNEX and AT&T Wireless are the only two licensed wireless providers.

Secondly, a number of technical problems face wireless service, such as developing a uniform transmission format so people who use different companies can communicate with each other.

With deregulation, smaller companies and resellers can provide you with local service, usually at lower prices. Long-distance companies will generally enter the local market as resellers.

But make sure you read the fine print; some companies charge a monthly fee to participate in such a program. The downside to using a reseller is that a customer service representative might not be as readily accessible if you have a problem with service or billing. Currently in the U.S., there are 400-500 small resellers and about 12 major resellers, including Excel and Telegroup.

Smaller phone companies, with their own network elements, will also be able to target certain niches such as rural areas, and residents here may get better deals. On the other hand, larger companies will go where the big money is, prospecting for business among the larger corporations. “The ultimate goal of the consumer should be to pick one company to
provide local and long-distance service, says a representative of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Telephone Association, a lobbying group for local exchange carriers. In the near future, practically all phone companies will offer bundled services. Aside from using your jregular carrier, you can also use another carrier by “dialing around.” With the five-digit code of a particular company, usually a reseller, you can place a call using that company as your billing agent. Often, they offer prices as low as six cents a minute. However, you should never dial around to make a local call since you are already paying for those calls with your local service.

Je-Ru Hall, senior account manager of Telegroup, suggests that you do the “700 test” to make sure you haven’t been “slammed” or switched to a different carrier without your knowledge. By dialing 700-555-4141, a recording will state exactly whom your long-distance carrier is. Then, call your carrier and request a “pick-freeze” so that no one will be allowed to switch your service without your written or verbal OK. “You want to pick a company that’s FCC-regulated because anyone can buy time,” says Hall, whose company, located in Fairfield, Iowa, is one of the leading resellers and offers bundled services, including calling cards and an 800 service. “You should also look for a company that’s been in business over five years,” he says. Because of the Telecom Act, local rates will vary drastically from state to state, he explains. States that charge the highest local rates include Texas, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Arizona, with per-minute rates totaling as much as 50 cents a minute for local calls.

Your basic local service bill should include monthly service

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