I would like to share with you a story about a user of phone service who is so
disgusted with large telephone companies that he welcomes the day when a small,
customer-oriented telephone company comes to his area so he can switch to that provider
forever. The user of the telephone service in this case is me.
I am probably an atypical long-distance customer, as my monthly long-distance bill
averages about $10. Recently, however, some of my relatives and friends who I wanted to be
in constant touch with went to Argentina for about a month. As I often write about
telephone rates plummeting and how the arbitrage opportunities in the States are slowly
eroding away, it didnt even occur to me to check with my current service provider
before using 200 minutes of their service to connect to Argentina. This amounted to two or
three days of calling. In my head I assumed I would be paying about 30-40 cents per
minute, in line with the arbitrage charts I often see in this magazine and on the Web.
I called MCI WorldCom to check what my rate would be,
and to my surprise it
was $2.40 per minute! In only a few days, I racked up a $530 phone bill. When I received
the bill from MCI, I felt like a thief entered my house and cleaned out my wallet. I, of
all people, was a victim of the phone companys ridiculous rates. Somehow I thought I
was immune to being charged astronomical rates on long distance. This was certainly a
PICKING THE RIGHT PLAN
As I wrote this Outlook, I received a call from Sprint
asking me to switch to their service. How surprised are you to hear I switched
immediately? Not, of course, without asking some important questions like, What is
your rate to Argentina? Their answer was an astounding 52 cents per minute. So as I
proceeded to sign up, the telemarketer asked me if I would like the international plan, to
which I answered, I dont know. She explained the plan, and her
explanation was quite interesting. The international plan is free and it gives you the 52
cents per minute rate. If you dont mention it, however, Sprint would use a different
code, and you dont even want to know how much they would charge you.
It seems unethical to me that if you dont think to mention the international rate
something most people dont even know exists then you are not entitled
to it. Perhaps I am just upset because my phone bill is so outrageous.
After switching to Sprint, I called MCI to see if there was anything they could do
about the telephone monopoly-era rates they charged me. Perhaps it was my choice of words,
but the answer was no. Of course, they were more than happy to advise me that they too
have an international plan and I could sign up if Id like to. They further informed
me that all international plans have monthly fees, and I should get a written contract
from Sprint if they tell me otherwise.
Id be interested in your feedback on this issue (send e-mail to email@example.com), but before you press the send
button, Id like to make a few points. I was aware that telephone companies regularly
overcharge customers who dont know any better. For some reason, I thought I had the
best rates available.
THE INTERNET TELEPHONY CALLING PLAN
Of course, I could have used Internet telephony, but with phone bills around $10,
I didnt ever have use for an Internet telephony service provider until now. I
decided that Internet telephony was indeed the best way to go, and I asked around my
office and was directed to a number of alternatives. I eventually settled on PT-1 Communications, and more specifically
their 101-6868 service, which charges a mere 32 cents per minute.
This was all well and good until I went to COMMUNICATIONS
SOLUTIONS EXPO in Las Vegas and still needed to keep in touch. Unfortunately, the
calling card portion of PT-1s Web site was down when I needed it, so one of my
fellow team members volunteered to walk through the exhibit hall and locate an Internet
telephony calling card for me. I ended up with a Net2Phone
card worth $100 at a rate of 42 cents per minute.
The only Net2Phone local access number I had at the time was in my hometown of
Stamford, CT, and of course, I was in Las Vegas so I used my cell phone to call
Connecticut, and from there placed my Internet telephony calls to Argentina. The quality
of my phone calls using this method was absolutely astounding
Minimal if any latency
and almost no dropped packets. I was very happy until I realized I would soon run out of
allotted minutes on my cell phone. So I retrieved the Las Vegas access number from
I immediately called Argentina from my hotel phone, using Net2Phones local
Internet telephony gateway in Nevada. Surprisingly, the quality of my call was atrocious,
despite repeated attempts. Obviously, the appropriate bandwidth was not available for me
to make a clear phone call from Vegas, and I had to resort to my cell phone.
When I returned home, PT-1 came in quite handy for about two out of three
conversations. The rest of my conversations sounded more like Internet telephony beta
software tests over an overtaxed trade show network. So to this day, I find myself
switching between Net2Phone and PT-1 to make clear and inexpensive calls. Interestingly,
MCI informs me that I cant use PT-1 from my office, although in my home it works
RESPONSIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE
Although the phone companys lowest rates do continue to decrease for
international calling, I have lost all my trust in large carriers. I feel their rate plans
are too confusing, and I dont feel that I have been treated well or fairly by MCI.
The worse part is that Sprint has similar policies as well. Am I the only one who thinks
that these guys need to act more responsibly?
As a customer, I have more choices today than I have ever had when it comes to making
long-distance calls, and it seems that phone companies have yet to acknowledge this. If a
phone company was to emerge that provided the ultimate in customer satisfaction and
service coupled with calls of high quality, I am sure it would quickly take away huge
amounts of market share from the larger providers.
After having gone through this ordeal, I have concluded that providing superior customer
service is still an elusive goal for many service providers. Hold times are long, pricing
options complex, and flexibility to solve customer problems is unheard of. In any other
business but telecom, this would be unacceptable.
The moral of this story is straightforward for service providers. Unless you provide
unparalleled service to your customers, you will lose them. This includes calling them and
letting them know that you have a less expensive way for them to make phone calls. I
dont feel good finding out after the fact that I have been charged incredibly high
rates for 200 minutes but can switch to a new plan from this point forward. This
definitely is not a relationship-building experience for me.
I have used hundreds upon hundreds of minutes on Net2phones network and it is
every bit as good as any other network I have ever used. The advantages of the large phone
companies and their perceptions of superior quality will soon totally fade away, and they
will be forced to compete on price and service. I welcome the day this happens.