Finding a low-cost long-distance carrier
According to reviewers, call quality and service are uniformly good across
all vendors, so you can be comfortable going with the least expensive plan
that fits your needs. Lesser-known companies buy their long-distance access
wholesale from the telecom giants, so the quality of service is generally
Here's what the experts say to consider when choosing a long-distance carrier:
- Check the fine print for a monthly fee or minimum-usage
charge. For most
callers, a monthly fee is a completely unnecessary expense. Since long-distance
rates decrease as competition grows, some companies add a monthly fee
to offset these lower charges. Most companies call this charge a recovery
fee. The only federally mandated charge is federal tax.
- The USF (Universal
Service Fund) is a mandatory fee imposed by the FCC. It supplements
phone service for low-income families, schools, roads, libraries and health
care. In the past, companies used this as a license to charge pretty much
whatever fees they liked, attributing them to USF and pocketing the difference.
That has changed. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now mandates
that all companies charge the same fixed amount, which is announced and
changed quarterly, and pay the full amount to the FCC. The current USF
fee can be found on the FCC website (http://www.fcc.gov).
- Time increments can have
a big impact on your bill. Some companies (such as AT&T and Pioneer)
bill in one-minute increments. If your call lasts one minute and one
second, you're charged for two minutes. This unused time can add up,
especially if you make many short long-distance calls. Programs that
bill at six-second increments more accurately reflect your actual calling
time. Editors of PhoneDog.com say the savings are 12 percent to 14 percent
when using a six-second billing increment versus a full-minute plan.
Telna has established an industry first by billing in one-second increments,
so you only pay for the actual length of your call.
- Inbound toll-free service is a
nice option. This can be a great way to avoid accepting charges for
collect calls. Many long-distance providers now offer residential toll-free
numbers, usually with the same rates as outbound long-distance calling.
There's usually a monthly charge of about $3 for this service, though providers
such as Telna or Pioneer offer it for $1, and ECG offers it for free.
Bear in mind that this report has no relevance to in-state calls. If a considerable
portion of the charges on your monthly bill comes from long-distance calls
made within your state (e.g. from Los Angeles to San Francisco), you'll have
to do some additional research to find the best rates. Since in-state rates
vary greatly from state to state and between carriers, it's impossible to
make recommendations for the general consumer. SaveOnPhone.com's rate calculator
is a good resource for checking the in-state rates of various long-distance
providers. In addition, PhoneDog.com's rate-plan comparison charts have the
option to list providers by the lowest in-state rate for any given state.