Distant points Featured

7:40am EDT April 2, 2003

What are you paying for long distance? Do you even remember who your carrier is?

With new resellers entering the long distance market every day, it’s easy to be confused by offers that have per minute charges, connection fees, introductory rates or even the bundling of other services. What used to be a simple choice now requires a consulting account to determine which plan will result in the most savings.

“The best place to start is with your current provider,” says Annabel Dodd, author of “The Essential Guide to Telecommunication” (Prentice Hall). “Ask them if you are on the right plan, because most of the time, six to 12 months after you signed up, a better plan becomes available that could save you money.”

If you’re looking at new carriers, ask whether there is a connection fee for every call, or if there is a minimum call length. Also ask how the calls are billed—are they rounded to the nearest minute or in six second increments?

“When you are looking at switching carriers, make sure you can keep the same telephone number,” says Dodd. “You can also sometimes split your service for outgoing and incoming calls.”

James Caruso, managing director of Media First Public Relations and a 20-year veteran of the telecommunications and information technology industries, recommends the following:

Information you need before you start shopping:

• How many minutes of long distance service does your business use?

• What percentage is fax traffic?

• Can I consolidate any cellular/mobile phone long distance traffic to aggregate minutes and get a lower rate?

• What accounting codes (for billing clients) must I have to track call charges?

Questions to ask the carrier:

• What is the rate per minute?

• Is there an initial charge (set-up or connection charge) or other “hidden” fee on each call?

• How many minutes of long distance must my firm have in order to qualify for your lowest rate?

• What type of codes can I have for tracking calls that are ultimately billed to my clients or charged to projects?

• Does the carrier guarantee “toll-quality” service (what you get in local calls at any Bell company)?

• Can you bundle services: video (cable etc.), voice (phone) and data (Internet service provider) with long distance to get a lower overall bill? Do I need any equipment to take advantage of these services? Who pays for it?