Talk is cheaper – comparison shopping for the cheapest long-distance phone service and an analysis of phone bills from five businesses – includes related article on factors to consider when switching services

Angela Gunn

In the 10 years since the shake-up of Ma Bell, such giant long-distance carriers as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint continue to bombard potential customers with ads that promise to keep them in touch with friends, family, and the world–each company boasting lower prices and better connections than the other guys. And right behind the Big Three are dozens of smaller carriers, promising to do the same for even less. Everybody, it seems, want to be your long-distance company. But the services and savings they promise are buried under layers of jargon about discounts, calling plans, and special options. With competitive this hot, people who don’t look for the best, least expensive, and most full-featured service are missing out on remarkable bargains. Overall, the average long-distance phone call costs about half of what it did in 1984. Comparison shopping among carriers can lead you to great savings that accumulate over the months.

Most long-distance carriers will customize your service by laboriously evaluating recent phone bills and suggesting which of their calling plans could save you money. It’s easy, however, to make your own decisions with a little information, a collection of your past phone bills, and 20 minutes of quality time with your calculator (see “Smart Ways to Switch Services”). HOME OFFICE COMPUTING asked five businesses to contribute their telephone bills for our analysis. The results–and our recommendations–follow, but one thing is clear: Most businesses spend far more than they should on long-distance service.

Dana Cassell Business: Writer (North Sandwich, NH) Average Long-Distance Bill: $105 Average Monthly Usage: 620 minutes/111 calls Calling Pattern: Moderate call volume; 25% day/49% evening/26% night; 100% of long-distance calls are out of state, 27% to most frequent called number; two phone lines (voice and fax) Current Carrier/Plan: AT&T/Simple Savings Suggested Carrier/Plan: AT&T/AnyHour Saver Estimated New Bill: $81 (22.5% savings)

Dana Cassell is a writer and editor who also runs several associations for independent writers. Her bills were the highest of any of the business owners we talked to for this story. She operates her company from her New Hampshire home, but many of her writers–as well as some of her relatives–live in Florida. Regardless of her high phone bill, Cassell’s calling pattern more closely resembles that of a residence, with many of the more expensive calls being made in the evening hours. “When writing sometimes, I intentionally use sources in other time zones so I can reach them when my phone rates are lower,” she admits, “even after 11 p.m. my time.”

Cassell is a satisfied AT&T customer. “We tried one or two other companies, but they tended to have hidden costs,” she says. “AT&T has been easy to reach and deal with.” Cassell uses AT&T’s Simple Savings discount plan, which provides her with a 25 percent discount on calls in one area code of her choice and 15 percent discounts on the rest of her domestic calls.

Diagnosis: Since Cassell’s New Hampshire-to-Florida calls are subject to some fairly stiff per-minute rates (about 24 cents a minute during the day), we found that a flat-rate plan best suited her needs. These provide a single per-minute rate for calls anywhere in the continental United States (and slightly higher per-minute rates to international locales). Some plans provide two rates, for both peak and off-peak hours. The rates themselves vary drastically by company but tend to be a bit below the average per-minute cost of calls even over short distances.

Had Cassell’s long-distance charges been higher–above $200 a month–she would qualify for a service such as LDDS Metromedia’s EasyAnswer, which changes 15.5 cents per minute during peak times and 12.4 cents per minute off peak. Cassell’s best bet, however, is AT&T’s AnyHour Saver program, which has a $10 monthly minimum that serves as a kind of flat rate for 60 minutes of long-distance calling.

The AnyHour Saver package charges $10 each month for one hour of long-distance calling. Surprisingly, the $10 is applied to the most expensive 60 minutes of calls on the bill; for instance, Cassell’s $10 could be applied to her pricey California calls before it wen toward those closer to home. After the first hour, calls costs 20 cents per minute during the day and a nominal 11 cents per minute during weekends, nights, and evenings–perfect for Cassell’s frequent nighttime calls.

Cassell’s current bill combines both her voice and fax phone-line charges; a separate service provides her with an 800 number for the writers’ association. In addition to changing calling plans, Cassell should consider consolidating her 800 service under the same carrier to combine the bills. This has two advantages: Not only do some companies offer volume discounts (which kick in at remarkably low monthly charges–in some cases as little as $25), but the companies that do so will break down the bill to show voice, fax, 800, residential, calling-card, and even international usage while still allowing Cassell to write one check at the end of the month.

Cassell originally chose Miami’s 305 area code for her 25 percent Simple Savings discount, but her bills showed that she’d spent slightly more time on the phone with people in Florida’s nearby 407 area code, which includes Orlando. The difference was not substantial (only about 10 minutes), and normally most of Cassell’s calls go to the 305 area code, but a more flexible program would automatically discount the calls made to the area code to which the business logs the most minutes in a particular month. Sprint’s The Most program gives a 20 percent automatic discount (and an additional 20 percent if the calls are made to a Sprint customer); the MCI Preferred program gives a 10 percent Optimizer discount.

Finally, most business need discounts on the peak (day) rates, but since Cassell makes many calls after regular business hours, she could benefit from a program such as Sprint’s split-the-weekend promotion, which gives 50 percent off domestic and international weekend calls (normally off-peak hours already). The AT&T program we recommended, however, has an excellent off-peak rate, and Cassell’s business is, by her own design, flexible enough to take advantage of them.

Donald Gunn Business: Agricultural building contractor (G&G Enterprises, Superior, NE) Average Long-Distance Bill: $12 Average Monthly Usage: 85 minutes/21 calls Calling Pattern: Low call volume; 59% days/6% evening/35% night; 68% of calls out of state, 57% to most frequently called number; two phone lines (business and residential), 800 number Current Carrier/Plan: Telenational Communications/ComNet Plan Suggested Carrier/Plan: Continue to monitor phone bill, but don’t change now Estimated New Bill: NA

Just three miles from the Kansas border in a heavily agricultural area, Donald Gunn sells and constructs farm buildings. His customers are spread over hundreds of square miles of territory. Nearly one-third of his calls qualify for intrastate rates, however, which are typically lower than interstate rates (and, in his case, aren’t covered by his long-distance carrier). His phone service includes an inbound 800 number and a calling card, both of which come in handy when he’s calling in to the office from a remote construction site.

About 59 percent of Gunn’s usage occurs during the day. Though most calls were brief (lasting less than five minutes), his bill showed semi-regular calls to New York that, in some cases, lasted well over an hour. These occurred equally in day, evening, and night periods.

Diagnosis: A former AT&T customer who’d also used MCI several years ago, Gunn now subscribes to a tiny carrier known as Telenational Communications, which offers combined billing for his residential and business lines and a flat rate of 14 cents per minute at any hour to any location in the continental U.S. Of all our volunteers, only Gunn has switched long-distance carriers more than once; he chose Telenational after receiving a brochure in the mail. Gunn discussed his calling patterns and per-month volume with a Telenational representative. Switching carriers was free of charge and as easy as signing an authorization form and sending it in.

The best aspect of Telenational for Gunn is its fractional billing policy. Instead of billing calls for full minutes–regardless of whether you’re still on the phone or have hung up–Telenational’s business plan bills in six-second increments. Many of Gunn’s calls are short conversations checking on customers, so the seconds shaved off the final minute account for a larger part of his savings than they would if he tended to make fewer, longer calls. Since Gunn pays for only the time he’s on the phone, a 30-second call costs just 7 cents. When we rounded each of Gunn’s calls up to the nearest minute and divided by the amount of his bill, we came up with an effective rate of 12.77 cents per minute–a good indicator of the savings Gunn receives from the combination of inexpensive per-minute flat rates and fractional billing. Most business services offer fractional billing (usually with a 30-second minimum); some, however, have monthly volume requirements, which vary widely. (Telenational has no monthly fees or minimums.)

Furthermore, with fractional billing, Gunn’s usage time averaged 85.5 minutes each month for just over 20 calls. The same calls made on a nonfractional service would have averaged out to 97 minutes of usage. The difference in Gunn’s case added up to about $7 each month.

Telenational Communications is one of a growing number of small long-distance providers that market their services only in selected parts of the country. Telenational, which is gearing itself toward the small-business niche that the other carriers are beginning to covet, provides service in parts of Nebraska, Iowa, in the metropolitan areas of Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas, the San Francisco Bay Area, and selected areas of Los Angeles. Most of the small carriers market themselves via direct mail, through ads, and with sales agents.

To be granted a business account with all of its benefits, Telenational required that Gunn use a business line, which is slightly more expensive but ensures his company a listing in the business portion of directory assistance and a single-line listing in the yellow pages. This rule isn’t true for all carriers, though. As a business account, Gunn’s company receives a long-distance bill that’s statistically broken down much more carefully than it would be were it for a residential account.

This is true of most carriers: Business-account bills give information on average call duration, percentage of calls to various locations, charges for 800 services, and other call statistics. This kind of analysis helps you pinpoint how you can reduce your phone bills even further. And, as mentioned above, some companies take it upon themselves to automatically analyze the numbers for you to be sure that you’re getting the best deal that carrier offers: With MCI’s Proof Positive service (included in their MCI Preferred business billing plan), the company not only analyzes your bill every 90 days but also gives you the best MCI price available if it turns out that your MCI Preferred plan didn’t give you that price already. (They’ll also recommend that you switch MCI plans, if it seems necessary.)

If Gunn had seen an advantage in staying with AT&T before he switched last year, he could have used the information sent to him by Telenational to bargain with his then-current carrier; he would have probably ended up on something resembling AT&T’s AnyHour Saver plan. Though he’ll continue to monitor the service he gets and the options available from other carriers, for now Gunn is content to save a little bit of money as well as time: “Lately when I get calls from long-distance salespeople, they give up pretty quickly when I tell them about my carrier and my rates.”

Mark Schaeffer & Debra Goldentyer

Business: Producers of videos and multimedia for education and training (Schaeffer & Goldentyer, Oakland, CA) Average Long-Distance Bill: $35 Average Monthly Usage: 150 minutes/27 calls Calling Pattern: Most calls to East Coast; 90% day/3% evening/7% night; 91% of calls interstate, 44% to most frequently called number; one voice line Current Carrier/Plan: Sprint/dial-1 Suggested Carrier/Plan: Telenational Communications/ComNet Estimated New Bill: $15.75 (45% savings)

When video producers Mark Schaeffer and Debra Goldentyer announced that they were moving from the East Coast to the San Francisco Bay Area, their regular customers made them promise to take their business transcontinental. Not only are such coast-to-coast calls in one of the highest-rate brackets, but the time difference decrees that almost every one is a day-rate call. Ninety percent of this business’s calls are made between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Goldentyer notes that occasionally calls come in even earlier. “People on the East Coast don’t always remember that we’re three hours earlier, not later,” he says. “I’ve gotten calls at 6 in the morning!”

Otherwise, their bill is not remarkable; they racked up an average of 150 minutes of calls in the monthly periods we evaluated. The volume doesn’t indicate a business service, but the peak-rate calling and long distances certainly do. Discounts for numbers and area codes called most frequently will not substantially benefit this calling pattern, since those numbers vary according to which projects are under way.

Diagnosis: For businesses like Schaeffer and Goldentyer’s, whose per-minute rates would otherwise be on the high end of the scale due to faraway clientele, a flat rate is especially cost effective. It’s also a very simple system to analyze: Take the number of minutes each month and multiply by the rate per minute. As mentioned earlier, some flat-rate systems such as LDDS Metromedia’s EasyAnswer have two prices, one for peak time (including day rates) and another for off-peak time.

Since Schaeffer and Goldentyer are situated in an area also served by Gunn’s regional deep discounter, Telenational Communications, this carrier would be an excellent choice. Telenational bills all calls at 14 cents a minute, dropping the average bill approximately 45 percent. Also, since rates are billed in six-second increments, the bills are likely to be even lower.

If Schaeffer and Goldentyer are leery of using a little-known carrier like Telenational–or if Telenational were not available in the Bay Area–they might seek out a national, flat-rate, deep-discount carrier such as Allnet. Deep-discount carriers are often companies that previously sold phone service to large companies or to other carriers: Since they’ve got the equipment but not the reputation, they often offer excellent rates.

The trick is finding these companies. In contrast to the mammoth advertising budgets used by the Big Three, many smaller carriers must rely on inexpensive ads and even direct-mail campaigns to get the word out. Looking into the various long-distance services jockeying for your attention in newspaper and radio ads can pay off handsomely. Even the business-to-business yellow pages list likely candidates; check under “Telephone Companies” or “Telephone Communications Services.” (Of course, all the usual precautions about dealing with unknown businesses apply. And beware of any company that seems to offer huge savings even before they’ve analyzed your bill.)

If they couldn’t find a deep-discount carrier, Schaeffer and Goldentyer could choose a more mainstream plan–one that includes flat rates, such as the AT&T AnyHour package. We’ve recommended this program to several of the businesses we studied, but the savings–as much as 25 percent–are most dramatic in this company’s case.

And if Schaeffer and Goldentyer prefer to stay with Sprint–Goldentyer notes that Sprint’s service has been great and comments, “While we both favor patronizing the little guy in every aspect of our business, there are times when it can be fool-hardy”–they should look at both The Most and Sprint Select Day plans. Since The Most focuses on the numbers most frequently called, it’s not the most reliable money-saving program for their eclectic phone bill. The Select Day program, a flat-rate package, bills the most expensive hour of the month’s calls at 20 cents a minute (that’s $12 for the hour versus AT&T’s $10) and the rest at 0.196 cents per minute (AT&T’s rate is 20 cents per minute for daytime calls), excellent for a heavy daytime package such as this. In addition, evening and night calls are eligible for a 10 percent discount. The Select Day program would save Schaeffer and Goldentyer around 10 percent.

Ross M. Greenberg

Business: Software designer (Software Concepts Design, New Kingston, NY) Average Long-Distance Bill: $87.25 Average Monthly Usage: 388 minutes/135 calls Calling Pattern: High volume (lots of short calls via modem); 71% day/16% evening/13% night; 12% of calls were international and calling-card calls (on nonstandard rates), 1% were out of state, 75% to most frequently called number; four phone lines (voice, fax, data) Current Carrier/Plan: MCI/MCI AnyTime with Friends and Family Suggested Carrier/Plan: Allnet/Maxcess Estimated New Bill: $67.25 (22.5 percent savings)

Ross M. Greenberg writes antivirus and telecommunications software from a rural corner of upstate New York. To keep abreast of news and technological developments in the computer industry and to chat with friends and acquaintances in the business, Greenberg relies heavily on such online services as CompuServe and GEnie as well as the Internet. Unfortunately, none of the services has local modem access numbers for him to call. Greenberg’s 388 minutes of calls were made almost entirely by his modem to just a few numbers in Ithaca and New York City; CompuServe’s access number in Ithaca accounts for around 75 percent of all his calls.

Greenberg’s bill for his four phone lines is consolidated into one statement, but he’s had trouble convincing MCI of that. “I send in my check and they usually credit it all to one number, and I get pay-up-or-die messages on the others,” he complains. Home businesses with more than one phone line occasionally run into this problem, but not that often. Poor service alone is an acceptable reason to switch carriers.

There were very few out-of-state calls on Greenberg’s bills; a few calling-card calls (with the usual per-call usage surcharges) are represented, and there were five international calls to a number in Ontario. About 71 percen of his calls were made during daytime hours.

Diagnosis: We recommend two possible carriers for this business Allnet, a discount provider, offers excellent rates in its Maxcess plan. There are different versions for callers with heavy regional or national bills; Greenberg, of course, is best served by the regional plan.

Additionally, it should be mentioned that Greenberg chose to submit bills for only two of his four numbers. His total average phone bill is actually in the $450 range. Such volume changes the picture considerably: Greenberg is eligible for programs like LDDS Metromedia’s Easy Answer service, which offers flat rates of 15 cents a minute for peak times and 12.4 cents a minute for off-peak calls. (Since this carrier is mainly interested in businesses with monthly billing of $200 or more, none of the bills we saw was eligible.)

Greenberg would also be well served by using a phone company that provides fractional billing, which measures calls in six-second increments instead of the usual full-minute blocks. For instance, his calls to the Internet and CompuServe are often very short because he uses offline readers for both services. Such software lets him retrieve his online messages and then read them without running up a huge modem bill. But by using a long-distance carrier that bills in full-minute increments, sadly enough, Greenberg is probably paying for 40 to 50 percent more phone time than he’s actually using. Both Allnet and LDDS Metromedia offer fractional billing.

If he decided to stick with MCI, his current carrier, Greenberg could even talk to them about discounting his calls to Ithaca’s CompuServe number. And although the call isn’t eligible for a calling-circle spending plan like Friends and Family–CompuServe is a large company with no interest in signing up for the plan–he would benefit from a plan such as Sprint’s The Most or MCI’s Key Business Member plan, both of which give 20 percent discounts on the number called most frequently. Sprint gives the discount automatically, and that number can change each month; with MCI, you must tell them ahead of time which number you want the discount applied to and change it yourself as your long-term calling pattern changes.

Greenberg could also talk with MCI about its Preferred plan. It has a $5 per-month minimum (no problem here) and offers fractional billing. MCI Preferred would allow Greenberg to combine his various lines to get volume discounts, which start at 10 percent for $25 worth of calls and increase as volume does. The 20 percent Key Business Member discount could be applied to the CompuServe access number. A 10 percent International Optimizer discount would apply to Canada (or any other foreign country Greenberg calls regularly) and the 20 percent Key International Business Member discount could be credited to one Canadian number. Greenberg would save about 20 percent off his current monthly bill. Once again, this applies mainly to the portion of the bill we saw; if the full four-line bill were in question, Greenberg would get the best rates by going with LDDS Metromedia.

Heidi Waldmann

Business: Graphic designer (Eureka! Design, St. Paul, MN) Average Long-Distance Bill: $25 Average Monthly Usage: 133 minutes/15 calls Calling Pattern: Low calling volume; 50% day/33% evening/17% night; 70% of calls to 206 area code; 100% of calls out of state, 58% to most frequently called number; one line (voice and data) Current Carrier/Plan: MCI/dial-1 Suggested Carrier/Plan: AT&T/AnyHour Saver or Sprint/The Most with split the weekend Estimated Average Savings: $20 (20 percent savings)

Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, Heidi Waldmann’s nine-year-old graphic-design firm serves mostly local, human-services-related and nonprofit businesses, allowing her to combine her design skills with her later education toward the ministry. Her long-distance calls are mostly to technical support for the various software and hardware products she depends on for her work, and most of the tech support is based in the 206 (Washington State) area code. Her long-distance usage is extremely low: Waldmann’s 15 calls per month are the fewest of any of the businesses studied. Most of her calls were to places far enough away (1,000 miles or more) to put her in the higher rate brackets, but Waldmann was able to make a number of her business calls during off-peak hours thanks to her midwestern location and a little planning.

While Waldmann saved money with her careful off-peak use–usually waiting until after 5 p.m. to make nonurgent calls–an equal number of her calls were made during the day. But a calling plan that’s designed to give her a break on day rates wouldn’t necessarily save as much as one with steeply discounted off-peak rates.

Though the percentage of calls to her most frequently called number (this month it was a technical-support number for her digitizing tablet) is high, Waldmann’s bill is more similar to Schaeffer and Goldentyer’s, which is only a moderately strong contender for most frequently called status, than to Greenberg’s, an obvious candidate. Unlike Greenberg, who calls the same number for the same purpose, Waldmann’s calls over the last few months were made to fix a series of specific problems with her computer. As Waldmann points out, “these things tend to occur in cycles.”

Diagnosis: We recommend, once again, AT&T’s AnyHour Saver package. The $10 charge for the most expensive hour of calls neatly jibed with the bills we saw, which had just under one hour of day-rate calls. Under AnyHour, Waldmann would wind up paying about 16 cents per minute for that hour–as opposed to the 24 cents per minute she’s paying now. Since all of her remaining calls would have been billed at off-peak rates (11 cents per minute), everything would fall together beautifully under this plan.

Although she saves a good percentage by switching to AT&T’s plan, Waldmann’s monthly long-distance charge is small enough that the percentage translates to just a few dollars. In fact, the difference we calculated between AT&T’s service and Sprint’s The Most plan was under $3–about the cost of a 12-minute phone call. Special promotions, such as Sprint’s split-the-weekend offer (which gives its customers a 50 percent discount on weekend calls), could make Sprint a slightly better bargain under the right circumstances. Waldmann should look at both programs.

In addition, a business with long-distance bills as low as Waldmann’s won’t see massive differences between one carrier and another–volume discounts don’t apply, and even the available discounts to the most-used area code would have resulted in a savings of only $2 to $3. (Since the area code of the technical-support numbers changes according to which products Waldmann’s using, she’d need to stay with a discount plan that automatically deducts for the most frequently called number, like Sprint’s The Most or MCI Preferred.)

If Waldmann wanted to remain with MCI, her current carrier, she could stay with the basic dial-1 plan she has now or switch to its MCI Preferred Plan. The rates for the latter are slightly higher than those of dial-1, and Waldmann’s low usage doesn’t put her in line to benefit from the MCI Preferred advantages such as volume discounts. However, since MCI analyzes MCI Preferred bills to be sure the proper calling plan is used (and credits accounts with the difference), Waldmann might opt to join the MCI Preferred plan anyway.

Waldmann’s calling pattern depends almost entirely on her technical-support needs. Her graphic-design business is growing, however, and as she develops more clientele outside the Minneapolis area, she should check on discounts such as those that are offered by MCI’s Key Business Member plan, which lets customers choose a designated domestic number at a 20 percent discount.

Finally, it’s interesting to see that standard flat-rate plans aren’t the answer for everyone. The pricing structure for the AT&T plan we recommended isn’t as tidy as that of Allnet or Tele-national Communications, but in this case the flat-rate plus low-rate structure was a good match to Waldmann’s calling pattern. If her calling habits changed to show more day-rate calls to faraway places, AT&T’s AnyHour Saver plan wouldn’t necessarily offer the best bargain.

Related article: Smart Ways to Switch Services

Sure, you complain about your long-distance bill, but when’s the last time you researched which calling plan would save you money? Some experts feel you should evaluate your service every few months since your calling patterns may change, carriers make special limited-time offers, and new services are introduced regularly. To do this, sit down with a few months’ worth of phone bills. About 20 minutes of examination should reveal basic patterns in your long-distance usage.

Find your pattern. By scanning a few months’ worth of bills, you’ll see what time of day most of your calls are made, who you spend the most time on the phone with, and which area code gets most of your calls.

Figure your per-minute rate. If the bill doesn’t show the total minutes for which you’re charged, add them up from the list of calls. Then divide the amount of the bill by the total number of minutes to get a basic per-minute average rate. Include taxes and other regular fees, but exclude such special charges as installation.

This rate is the most important number in your arsenal. If you make a lot of calls on weekends or between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, calculate a per-minute rate for both peak (day) calls and off-peak (evening/night/weekend) hours. And if your business is seasonal–around tax time or a holiday, for instance–figure two average numbers, representing your peak and off-peak seasons. Also keep notes on how many minutes you call during the day, evening, and night.

Make a wish list. Next, write down additional services you want. If you travel, you probably use a calling card. If you work with branch offices or distant clients, conference calling might help you. An 800 number may be right for attracting out-of-town clients.

Get the facts. Armed with your numbers and your wish list, start shopping. Read the long-distance phone company ads in newspapers and magazines or jot down information from TV commercials. Find out which plans you’re qualified for based on your patterns, then call the companies and compare their rates. Ask for their per-minute rates for the plan that interests you; the carriers should be able to fax you information on the plans.

To save time and lessen confusion, consider using a comparative evaluation such as one published by an independent consumer group. Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC) publishes an exhaustively researched newsletter called Tele-Tips, which can help you sift through the plans offered by the largest companies, including AT&T, Sprint, MCI, LDDS Metromedia, and Allnet. Tele-Tips charts billing plans, peak and off-peak rates, and other features such as free calling cards or most frequently called number discounts.

TRAC publishes both a residential-service and a business-service newsletter. Not all long-distance carriers require you to list yourself as a business line to take advantage of business savings plans, and since some carriers offer business plans with minimum requirements as low as $5 of usage (about 20 minutes each month), it’s wise to read both newsletters regardless of your call volume. (Additionally, many companies allow you to combine multiple phone lines on one bill, so even if you keep your business and personal lines separate, you could still use personal calls to improve your business discount.) For a copy of TRAC’s newsletter, send $2 for the residential version, $5 for the business, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to TRAC, P.O. Box 12038, Washington, DC 20005. A one-year membership ($25) includes both versions of the semi-annual newsletter and is tax deductible.

Call the companies. Once you have located appealing plans, call the carriers and ask for details. They’ll often request copies of your recent phone bills. Some may need more data than others: A flat-rate carrier like Telenational will only ask how many minutes you call each month, since there is no discount for distance or time of day included in their rate. Others may inquire about frequently called numbers, calling-card usage, and so forth.

Make sure to ask the company to which you’re switching to cover any charges levied by the one you’re leaving. If you find that a competitor offers a feature or frequent-use benefit that appeals to you, approach your current carrier before changing; they may bargain with you. Avoid signing any long-term contracts; not only will you lose your bargaining power if a better deal comes along, but the program you’re locked into could increase its rates. On the other hand, if you decide to stay loyal to your current long-distance provider (through either satisfaction or inertia), you might be eligible for benefits including free calls and special discount offers. Call and ask.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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