Internet Phone Hits Home

When my phone bill arrives, I've learned a method for dealing with it that helps me maintain my sanity. I insert my letter opener into the envelope's crease, take a big breath, tell myself to relax and then slice it open. I've trained my eyes to see only the first and last pages. Why? Because the middle pages infuriate me.

Two years ago I signed up for the most delightful phone package. In the pitch, it sounded simple, inexpensive and perfect. The basic plan was only $10.95 per month. I'm not naïve enough to think there are no taxes and
fees on phone service, but the bills I got were ridiculous. On months that I made no long distance or toll calls my $10.95 plan still swelled to at least $35. I suffered repeated eye strain and probably gained a few hundred gray hairs from trying to understand what can only be described as a multi-page chart of fees and other cryptic, miscellaneous surcharges.

I fantasized about returning my bill with a reduced payment after I deducted my own set of fees. I'd deduct a "misleading promo fee," a "junk mail insert discarding fee," a "fine print eye strain fee," a "potential paper cut safety fee," a "jargon translation fee," and a "failure to really block anonymous calls fee." Oh, I'd add more fees -lots more. In fact I'd shave my bill to about, say, $10.95. My fees, unlike theirs, would have clear meaning.

Fed up, I made a bold move a few weeks ago. I cancelled my land line altogether. When the dumbfounded phone rep asked why, I held back my diatribe and through clenched teeth said, "Please, just cancel it."

I did some manic research and compared VOIP (Voice Over IP) service providers. VOIP means you use your high speed Internet connection to make phone calls. VOIP has had slow movement into the consumer market, primarily because of its lack of integration with common phones that consumers already use. Some VOIP services offer only computer to computer calls. Others require you to use their own clunky, unfashionable telephones.

After comparing VOIP companies, I honed in on one (CallCentric.com) that had an abundance of positive consumer reviews (a personal requirement before I buy any new gadget). CallCentric allows use of your existing telephones (with an adapter). In many cases they can port your current phone number to their service. Their plans range from free computer to computer calls to full, competitive International plans. I pay $5.95 for unlimited incoming calls and $0.0189/min for outgoing domestic calls.

The service is feature-rich and I can review and manage all aspects of my service via a web page. I have found that the quality of service is virtually indistinguishable from my old landline telephone and their support and FAQ's are outstanding.

I should have made the move long ago. My biggest adjustment has been coping with the shock that my monthly CallCentric bill is the exact amount they claimed it would be.

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