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?

and message unit charges, installation service and enhancements (i.e., tone dialing/dial tone and call waiting), taxes, subscriber line charges, and all other consumer expenditures associated with telephone services, except for long-distance charges. If your telephone bill seems like a foreign language, don’t expect that to change. The bills have to be that explicit since phone companies are heavily regulated by the FCC. However, if you notice a charge that you’re not familiar with or need help deciphering the bill, call your company’s 800 number for assistance.

Most experts in the phone industry agree the best way to save money is to choose a calling plan. Only about one-third of phone customers are enrolled in a calling plan, says Aaron Golub, a representative of the Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC) in Washington, D.C. Almost every phone company offers some sort of plan that can be tailored to your calling habits. The higher your phone bill, the more likely you’ll need to examine whether your calling plan is right for you.

TRAC’s newsletter, Tele-Tips, offers some helpful advice in choosing a calling plan:

First, determine your calling patterns. When do you make the greatest number of calls and what is their average duration?

Next, research and compare calling plans to find the least expensive one to suit your needs. You can get a list of all the long-distance providers in your area by requesting it from your local telephone service company. Ask if the company bills in six-second or one-minute increments. Off-peak hours, which offer the lowest rates, will vary from company to company, so make sure you’re clear about when they are. Also, try to pick discount plans instead of standard rate plans, which are usually more costly.

For example, LCI’s All America Plan offers flat rates that vary by time of day and in six-second increments. Billing in smaller time increments of six or 15 or 30 seconds means that a call will often cost less because you are only billed for that amount of time and not the calling time rounded up to the first minute. Under LCI’s plan, customers pay no sign-up or monthly fees and have no minimum monthly requirements. Another plan, HomeSaver, offered by Frontier, is good if you work at home and make many calls. This plan offers customers only two calling periods, peak and off-peak, with flat rates offered for each. Calls are billed in six-second increments and there are no minimum spending requirements.

Read each plan’s description to make sure you meet the requirements to get the discount rates, and that the rates are still the same. Call a company’s 800 numbers to check if rates are still the same and the features and services you want are still offered with the plan.
Negotiate with a particular company for the rates you want by calling customer service. Be knowledgeable about what plans they offer, their competitor’s plans and how much you’re willing to spend. Aaron Golub of TRAC was offered a 50% discount on his long-distance bill from

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