Sunday, August 21, 2005

Reducing Long Distance Expenses

Working Assets Long Distance vs. Sprint 50 At Home

Even though we spend an average of only $15/mo on long distance, I've been looking for ways to reduce our cost even further. LaLa has her own business and pays for her cellphone out of her funds so she always uses that for all long distance. My cellphone is paid for by work, so I don't feel comfortable using my "limited" minutes for personal LD calls, so I make the bulk, if not all, of LD calls on our land line.

I have had Working Assets Long Distance service for the bulk of my 15+ years as a bill paying adult. I believe in what the company is trying to do, and up until recently I felt good about supporting their work by using their service. But in this competitive market, I could no longer justify paying a monthly fee of $4.95 just to carry their service in addition to 7c a minute for calls. A couple of months ago we called and asked if they had an alternative to paying a monthly fee and when told they did not, we made the decision to pursue alternatives:

Pre-Paid Phone Card - I purchased a $10 phone card at my grocery store that was worth 444 minutes if used with a local access number. This card was branded with my grocery store's name, but offered through a company called RNK Telecom. Essentially under 3c a minute, this looked promising. The card expires 6 months after first use, but at an average of under 150 minutes a month, it would take me an average of 3 months to use the card. This would drop my estimated long distance cost from approx $180/yr to $40/yr. But I've had problems using the card- the PIN number just went invalid for no discernable reason. Customer service was prompt and efficient but the hassle was annoying. Still a resource, but not a favorite.

Skype - If you have a broadband connection and you spend a lot of money on long distance, you really must check out Skype. It uses a peer to peer protocol to send voice over IP. Because the service becomes more efficient and robust with more "peers", skype to skype "calls" are completely FREE to entice more users to use it. The interface is very similar to instant messaging applications and you can use built in speakers and microphones (most often found on laptops) but a headset (easily under $20) will give you the best sound quality. We have been using this service through work for about a year, especially to communicate with our coworker who lives in the UK - it has saved us hundreds of dollars. Skype offers a service called SkypeOut which allows you to use your Skype application to "phone" land lines for about 2.9c a minute (US calls) using 10EU pre-paid increments. The downside for me, is that I like to wander when I am making personal calls and the wired headset tethers me to the computer (fine while working) and the bluetooth headset had horrible sound once I started down the stairs. Still a good price...

Vonage - I calculated that switching local and long distance over to Vonage's VoIP service would save me a net total of about $30/month. I like this idea for the future but I do use 911 a fair amount (they make us use that for noise and nuisance complaints and my neighborhood is...a handful at times) and I've heard mixed feedback on quality. Eventually a "yes" but I'm not ready to make the technology leap quite yet.

Sprint 50 At Home - I use Sprint PCS for my mobile phone and last month I received a bill insert offering 50 free minutes of Sprint long distance for PCS customers. The first 50 minutes (non international) are free, 7c a minute after that and no monthly fee (taxes and fees not included of course). I figured I'd be saving on average $8.50 a month (more than 50%) and still enjoy the convenience of just picking up my phone and dialing a single number.

So I switched.

WALD Comes from Behind! - A few days later we got a "please don't leave us" call from Working Assets. They have a new long distance plan, primarily marketed at mobile phone owners who use very little long distance on their land line. There is no monthly fee (yay!) but it's 10c a minute (yawn!). The kicker is that to promote the new plan, they will give you a credit of $100 after three months on the plan. Due to taxes and fees it will be *less* than 1000 free minutes of course, but will still last me 6 months give or take. So this is a groovy company that I can get my hippie self behind that is also offering a sweet deal...for the next 9 months at least. I also plan on limiting my long distance calls over the next three months (and beyond) to maximize the time line of this deal.


  1. Check out USA DataNet for long distance. No monthly fee, low per-minute rates.

  2. I have been using Vonage for the last several months. When it works, it's great, but I've had a number of clients try to call in and not get through.

    So, my vote is that it's not really ready for the business world. For personal use, it would be great.

  3. I used to use for calls before I switched to VoIP. 2.5 cents a minute!

  4. I'll second
    I usually use it for calls to Canada - just use my cell phone for US calls.

    No monthly fees, and you don't need to use a PIN from your home phone. It doubles up as a calling card for when you are traveling.

  5. I'll have to check out onesuite...I like the idea of the convenience and it looks like it would only cost me 15c more an hour than my grocery store pre-paid card ;)

  6. I have vonage and love it. they have significantly improved their 911 service (I'm guessing because of the new Fed rules that said they have to).

  7. I've used One Suite for a couple of years now and have liked it very much. However, for the last two days they have had an intercept message that says they are "down for maintenance",... whatever that means. Their website has the same message. Looks to me like they are on the verge of collapse. At the very least this is going to lose them a lot of customers,... probably including myself.

  8. On the contrary, I seldom experienced downtime with Onesuite. I like their rates and the convenience of not buying phone cards every now and then plus the online access feature where you can do everything with your account over the internet.


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