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How to select a long-distance service provider
 
Finding the right long-distance company might seem overwhelming. Here's some information to get you started.

Get it in writing before making the leap
Even though you're shopping for a phone service, the phone is not the best way to understand all the details about the service. Ask your questions by phone but get the offer in writing before you make a decision. This is a particularly good rule to follow if the phone company has called you to solicit your business.

Be careful when comparing advertised rates
Companies advertise rates in different ways. Some companies offer special per minute rates on calls based on their length, destination and day of the week. Others advertise the same low rate all the time, but may have monthly service charges. Almost all companies have charges in addition to their advertised rates. Before making a decision on a new long-distance company, get in writing all the charges that will apply to calls you will likely make.

Compare in-state rates when shopping for new provider
Most long-distance companies charge a different rate for calls made between your state and another state (interstate) and calls made within your state. The interstate rates are the ones that are advertised on national advertising. In-state rates are usually more expensive. Be sure to check the in-state rate; you will likely have to ask for it specifically.

Look out for additional charges and minimum amounts
Unfortunately, long-distance companies have added on monthly charges that make comparing per-minute rates difficult. These charges may appear as if they are government fees or mandated by the federal government. Most of them are not required by law and can vary between companies. When shopping for long-distance companies, its worth asking specifically for the amount of these charges so that you can make a fair comparison. Some of the major companies also require you to spend a minimum amount per month (not counting fees). If you are low-volume toll user, find a provider that does not require a minimum payment. Furthermore, if you are a low-volume caller, you probably do not want a plan that requires a monthly fee.

How to change your long-distance service provider
Contact the long-distance company of your choice. Your new carrier will arrange with your local telephone company to ensure that your toll calls are automatically routed to its long-distance network. This is called establishing a presubscribed long-distance service. Most phones are assigned to a long-distance provider in such a way. But its a good idea to check with your local phone company to make sure the switch is made. Also, there is a charge for switching your presubscribed long-distance provider. Often, the long-distance company will cover the cost associated with switching your calls to them but not always.

The purpose of dial-around codes (10-10-XXX)
If you’re calling from your home, your long-distance calls are automatically routed to your chosen company(s) without having to dial a code. However, you can route your call through a different provider by dialing the carrier's specific seven-digit access code before making the call. Be careful - some companies which advertise low per-minute rates add a monthly service or surcharge to each call. These extra charges can make the cost of the call substantially higher than the advertised price. Before using a dial-around service, read all the fine print.

Toll Restriction
You can ask your local phone company to restrict direct-dialed toll calls from your phone. Some customers request this when a phone is an area where there are frequent visitors or users. The phone call still can be used to dial toll-free numbers, dial-around services and collect calls.

Going without a presubscribed long-distance company
While most phones are automatically linked (or presubscribed) to a specific long-distance company, you can ask your local phone company to not presubscribe a long-distance company to your phone line. Usually, this is done for phone lines that are dedicated to data transmission and are not likely to be used for long-distance calls. To avoid any complications regarding casual long-distance calls made from that line, we advise you also put a toll restriction on the line.

Avoiding slamming and other scams
Beware of telemarketers. Unless you have an account freeze (see below), your long-distance and local phone service can be switched to another provider simply by providing verbal approval to a salesperson and a verifying agent. Unscrupulous telemarketers often use deception to get a customer to provide the verbal authorization necessary to switch providers. If you find that your phone-service provider has been switched against your wishes (known as a "slammed"), you have rights that protect you. Alert your local phone company that an unauthorized provider switch has happened. Do not pay the charges until the dispute is settled. Contact your original long-distance provider and make sure you are put back on the calling plan you desire. Also, contact the unauthorized company and cancel its service. If you are not satisfied with any of these interactions, you may file a complaint with the UTC.

Account Freeze
You can ask your local phone company to put a freeze on your local and long-distance service so that providers cannot be switched without written authorization. This means that before you ever switch your local or long-distance service in the future, you will have to sign a form that removes the freeze. It also means that your service provider cannot be switched without your knowledge.

Tips for finding the best long-distance telephone deal
1. Start with your last phone bill
Spend a few minutes looking at your phone bills for the past three months. A review of your past bills can tell you what kind of savings you may or may not realize from a different long-distance plan. If you use more than one long-distance company, be sure to consider all your toll calls in your analysis. Ask these questions:
  • How much did I spend on long-distance calls?
  • What is the per-minute charge and how does it vary?
  • What other charges am I paying?
  • Where did I call the most?
  • Which calls were the longest?
  • What time of day were the calls made?
  • Would I have talked longer if I had known the call would have cost less?
  • Am I expecting changes that will affect my household toll use?

2. Figure out what you want
Now that you’ve reviewed your calling patterns, decide on what you want. Do you want a flat-rate anywhere and any time you call, or are you willing to go with cheaper per-minute rates if it means calling during certain time periods or days? Do you call long-distance enough to justify a monthly fee? If so, what would the per minute savings have to be? By answering these questions, you can narrow your search down to certain types of plans. For instance, a light long-distance caller will likely look for a plan that has no monthly plan fees and does not require a minimum payment.

3. Contact your existing provider
When you have an idea of what you want, ask your existing long-distance provider. Telephone companies routinely offer new calling plans to new customers without informing existing customers of their availability. It pays to check in with your company periodically to find out if you can score a better deal. At the very least, you will have a calling plan for comparing with others. Remember to check for in-state rates. You can find your toll company’s toll-free phone number on your bill.

4. Shop around
There are hundreds of long-distance companies, and most of them offer multiple plans. There is no single company or plan that is best for every customer. To get started, ask friends and work colleagues who they use; check out the ads in the paper and on television; or search the Internet (many long-distance companies have websites). There is an ever-changing list of websites (such as www.abtolls.com) that provide rate comparisons.

5. Review the details before committing
Once you find a plan you like, cover all your bases. Check in-state rates? Understand all of the company’s monthly charges, including FCC-related fees? Who will pay for the cost of switching your telephone service? How is billing done?

6. Make the choice
Contact the long-distance company of your choice. The long-distance company will arrange with your local telephone company to ensure that your toll calls are automatically routed to its long-distance network.

7. Verify whether you are realizing the savings expected
Take a look at your phone bill after a month or two with your new provider. Are you saving money or getting better service? Review your bill periodically and remember to contact your provider when you think they may have a new and better plan for you.

For more helpful consumer tips, visit our consumer page and receive our quarterly consumer newsletter.

 

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