April 25, 2003

Consumer’s Guide

Evaluate Your Communications Bill And Save Money

By Ignacio De La Torre
SBC California Regional Vice President

With tax season just behind us and your focus turning to personal finances, your “to-do” list may include “save money” or “get budget under control.” If you’re searching for ways to trim costs, here’s an idea: re-evaluate your current  local, long distance, wireless and Internet services. Because of  increased competition in the communications marketplace, you may be missing out on great savings and values that could shave hundreds of dollars a year.

Consumers today have many choices of communications services and providers. Sorting through the various offers, making price comparisons, and considering the “savings” that each company claims to provide can be mentally draining. You may want to consider the convenience and value of consolidating your communication needs with one provider and getting one bill for all communications in your household.

You may be able to get a discount for what’s called “bundling” your phone services like local, toll, call management services such as Caller ID and call waiting, DSL, wireless and long distance service to receive discounts. And, you’ll only pay one bill. It’s like visiting your grocery store and being able to pick up your dry cleaning, prescriptions, groceries, and stamps in one trip - it’s convenient, efficient and saves you money. Bundling services can mean savings of hundreds of dollars per year.

Shopping for the right bundle or communications services can be easier to tackle when consumers have information about their usage and habits. These key questions that help uncover a lot about current expenses are:

* If you make a lot of long distance calls, especially to international destinations, are you on a specialized long distance plan?

* If you and your family spend a lot of time online, have you considered getting DSL to free up your phone line?

* If you use a lot of services like voicemail, call waiting and caller ID and subscribe to them individually, have you considered subscribing to a package?

If you purchase multiple communication services such as Internet service, long distance and call management services, have you considered bundling your services with one provider to get a better rate?

It’s a confusing phone world out there, that’s why you should keep in mind the following tips when shopping for your long distance services:

* Evaluate your current monthly expenses. Review your last three bills to determine your long distance calling patterns, use of call management services, wireless and Internet dial or DSL expenses. Examine whether your current plans and services or another plan and carrier would help lower your bill. Not all phone service providers offer a complete range of services so be sure to ask.

* Get informed about fees. Watch out for companies that have fees associated with receiving all charges on the one bill —such as $1.50 per month— or fees that apply when consumers don’t use a specific amount of long-distance minutes on some plans. 

* Understand who pays for switching charges. You have the right to change your long distance company any time you choose, but switching providers may result in a one-time charge that can range from $5 to $10. Some companies offer to cover this fee by paying it directly to your former long-distance carrier, or sending you a check to cover the expense. 

* Be aware of time and usage restrictions. In order to receive a long distance plan’s lowest rates, you may have to restrict calls to certain times of the day, usually evenings or weekends. Know what rate you receive on calls made at other times of the day, or look for plans that offer a low anytime rate. Also, evaluate any time limits on Internet service plans against the time you spend online to ensure your service adequately meets your needs.

* Remember that unlimited calling plans do not automatically mean savings. When considering such plans, determine the true rate you would end up paying for long distance. For example, if your household uses 10 minutes of long distance calls per month but has a $20 unlimited plan, the cost for a long distance phone call is $2 per minute.  For most people, unlimited long distance is like having a side salad at an “All You Can Eat” buffet — not such a great deal.

Just think, the ability to cut back on your communication expenses could be just a phone call away.

Ignacio De La Torre is a Regional Vice President with SBC California and is also active in the San Diego community.

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