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How to wring money from your phone bill Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

One big mystery of this technology-driven world is how some telephone companies cannot produce an invoice the average person can interpret. Your business could be losing money and you may not even know it.

When one Columbus-based company with an annual phone bill of more than $10 million had an audit performed, executives discovered they'd been overbilled $1.5 million on an annual basis. If your business adds or deletes services on a regular basis, it's a safe bet that your telephone bill is wrong.

Even smaller companies with 10 to 20 lines regularly find major errors on their invoices. But don't despair.

Here are some ways to safeguard against being billed incorrectly.

The consultative approach

Some consultants specialize in interpreting telephone bills. Payment for these services is either a fixed fee or a percentage of the savings determined from the annual telephone bill.

It's a good idea to shop around and compare companies and pricing. When your bill is evaluated, the final report should separate out the fixed costs reflected on your bill, the variable costs and the one-time costs. The fixed costs become a monthly benchmark by which to compare your bills. Variable costs can also be reviewed each month to ensure they are reasonable.

If overbilling is confirmed, contact the telephone company and request a credit.

Help from the competition

A free way to verify the accuracy of your phone bill is to get a quote for services from a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC). A CLEC offers many of the same products and services as a larger telephone company, but often at a more competitive price.

My company, Adelphia Business Solutions, is a CLEC. With a letter of authorization signed by you, a CLEC can access customer service records from your phone company, review the bill, identify which services you have and provide you with a quote. During this process, the CLEC should identify any errors in billing or service.

If you switch service providers, make sure the representative thoroughly explains each item on the first bill. Some providers even deliver the first bill in person and answer your questions face to face.

Do the math

On invoices that include long distance charges, verify that the actual cost per minute billed matches what was quoted. To do this, take the total number of minutes for the billing period and divide them into the total costs, before taxes and other fixed costs are added.

Some companies have a service charge or monthly cost per line for long distance, which should be factored in to determine the true cost per minute. You may be surprised to discover your fixed per-minute charge for long distance is twice what you think it is.

One Central Ohio company thought it was being charged seven cents per minute, when in reality it was being charged more than 25 cents per minute because of the limited number of calls placed.

Telephone bills may never be easy to interpret, but it's important to understand which services you have and the charges billed to you. With this understanding, your business can potentially save a lot of money.

And always keep documentation, in case of future discrepancies. Duane C. Bennett (duane.bennett@adelphiacom.com) is general manager of Adelphia Business Solutions' Central Ohio office. Bennett previously held senior management positions with LCI, now known as QWEST, and CoreComm Ltd.