The Long Distance Phoney Study

By R.J. Moats


(author note: this article was written before my mother corrected one small flaw, AT&T now charges .17 cents per minute and not .15 as listed in this article, please adjust your math, thanks.)

I just received my monthly phone bill today and studied the page with the long distance rates listed on it as I do every month. You see for the last year or so I have been changing the way I dial long distance. It started when I kept getting those cards in the mail with those little stickers that you put on your phone with phone codes to use to save money on your long distance calls. The first one I tried was the "DimeLine" people who kept sending me cards that are from the same company but they would change the offers. I used one of their 100-something DimeLine numbers for two months and checking my bill thought "Wow, my calls are only a dime a minute!" and I called all my friends and family and told them to try it. This was fine and money-saving but when the third month came around they started tacking on a flat $5.00 a month service charge. I sat down and did some cyphering (as Jethro would say) and found out that for the number of long distance calls I make a month (my parents every Sunday and a few businesses), my calls were now costing me over .40 a minute! Whoa, I called the DimeLine people and complained and they said that the fine print on the back of the card states that they will charge you a service fee. I told her to take my name out of their system and called all my family and friends and warned them.

I went back to AT&T long distance and their familiar .15 a minute calls anytime, anywhere. Unfortunately I kept getting those cards and newspaper inserts for all the other money saving companies. One even bragged about how they beat "DimeLine" and laid out the chart showing how they compare to them and to the major phone companies, but checking the fine print, they have a flat $3.95 a month service charge, yes they save you money over the DimeLine by $1.05 a month. I'm honestly sure they all can save you money but I figured that I would have to make an average of over 30 long distance calls each month that are NO less than 10 minutes (they have restrictions on shorter calls) in order to get down to about .15 a minute. Every call after that brings the bill down below AT&T.

About two months ago I got a card with stickers from a company called U.S. Billing and I studied their rates as I do with the rest but I couldn't find a monthly fee! Hmmm. Moving away from the fine print I read the front rates and found that they only charge you .10 per call as a service charge, and it is 9.5 cents per minute within the state in non-prime time (after 5pm) and weekends or .12 cents per minute during the weekday time. I did the cyphering and if I were to call my parents who live 60 miles away during the day for 3 minutes It would cost me .46 or .15 per minute same as AT&T. If I had talked for 10 minutes it would cost me $1.30 or .13 per minute! Two cents a minute cheaper than AT&T and no other hidden costs. That same 10 minute call made in the evening would now be $1.05, only 10.5 cents per minute! Which makes it better to call in the evening, weekends or calls longer than 10 minutes during the weekday. AND no ridiculous monthly fee!

I have been using their number, 100-56 +1 +area code +phone number for two months now and today's bill, hold on while I cypher... I had a total of 110 minutes (not usual for me blame my son) of long distance phone calls for the month, the bill was $13.48 or .12 cents a minute, saving me $3.30 for the month over AT&T. My son made one call to Wisconsin for 37 of those 110 minutes and the charge was $3.80 (.10 per min, evenings, out of state) compared to $5.50 that AT&T would have charged.

I'm not writing this as an endorsement for U.S. Billing, (or saying don't try the other services because in your case they may be good for you) but if someone else was cheaper I would let you know. I'm just getting tired of the all the phone companies and services out there saying they save you money (which they can the more you call) and I'm ALSO tired of the dozens of phone bill pages I get monthly with charges here and there for who knows what, like the charges for regulated FCC service, 911 charges even if I don't call 911, local calls over 200 at .062 per call (last month I made 352 calls), a couple of long distance Ameritech toll calls to numbers I don't even know and a few charges for those .75 call back numbers (*69) that I don't need to make as I have caller ID and I know who called me while I was out. I figure if they tack on, let's say, $2.00 a month on my bill for frivolous charges that I wouldn't question, then how much money extra a month are they getting by doing this to all phone bills! Millions! So am I being silly for trying to save $3.30 on my long distance calls by using a service instead of giving it to the phone company, I think NOT! I hope everyone cuts the phone company out like this, but then they would just raise the cost of something else to make up for it and I can't switch phone companies, darn!

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WARNING! WARNING! Will Robinson! Changing the subject from long distance to collect calls from a pay phone! My son once called me collect from a pay phone at a party store about what video to rent and the charge for that call was almost $8.00 for two minutes! I called Ameritech and was told that particular pay phone was run by a private company and they could charge what they wanted. She said on pay phones that aren't clearly marked as being Ameritech phones, they could be private, but if you dial 1-800-CALL-ATT from that unmarked phone you will not invoke the stupid private company fee. I bring this up as I look at my phone bill and my son, again, called collect from the mall last month but used MCI (800-Collect) and they charged me $2.75 for ONE minute. I told him to put .35 in his wallet in case of future pay phone calls or learn to get on a roof and yell real loud.

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