Avoiding the death of a thousand pecks

Much has been written about the advantages of VoIP vendors such as Vonage, but there’s one aspect of these products that impresses me immensely: No more financial death by a thousand pecks.

I recently switched my house and office telephone services from SBC to Vonage and I just received what I hope is my last large, complicated bill from SBC. You can’t help but look at these statements with a sense of awe at the rampant bureaucracy, lack of understanding of what customer service means, and the creative accounting these documents display.

Scanning down the charges for my DSL line I see my Internet service is US$65 but there’s an additional $24 in the “Plans and Services” section (which should really be called the “Plans and Services and Taxes and Surcharges and any other chicken feed we can throw in” section).

These chicken pecks include: Residence Flat Service Line Sharing Basis ($10.69), Federal Subscriber Line Charge ($4.42), State Regulatory Fee ($0.02), CA High Cost Fund Surcharges A and B ($0.03 and $0.41, respectively), call waiting (an outrageous $3.23), and on and on.

Yeah, I know that some of this comes from the long and tortuous history of telco regulation, but you’d think someone in the government or the telephone companies would have looked at the bills they generate, or even their own bills, and realize that the overhead for this kind of complexity in a system as complicated as the telephone company is crazy.

Vonage, on the other hand, makes it simple. Well, simple-ish. At any rate, nowhere near as complex as SBC.

For a start, many of the SBC options such as voice mail (SBC charges an additional $8.95 per month for this), call waiting, call forwarding and so on are included in the basic price of Vonage along with features SBC and the other telcos don’t even offer. These include Click-2-Call (integrating Vonage with Outlook so that clicking on a contact item will place a call to whichever of their numbers you select, first ringing your phone then theirs); call return (for free); ringing your various phone numbers (home, office) on incoming calls sequentially or simultaneously . . . the list goes on and on.

I went online to Vonage, ordered my lines, waited a few days for the hardware to arrive, had to call their customer service (who picked up within five minutes), got my question answered (how to add the VOIP routers to my current network – their documentation doesn’t cover this), and voila…! Almost done.

The reason I write “almost” is that I transferred my current numbers, and while the first number went through in 10 days it appears that SBC “lost” the paperwork for my office number.

Anyway, the first time you plug in your VoIP router you will be amazed. You will (unless the demons of telecom are against you) hear a dial tone. That’s it. It works. And I love getting my voice mail as e-mail attachments.

Vonage offers four types of calling plans that provide U.S. and Canada calling: Basic 500 (500 minutes of calls for $15); Premium Unlimited (you guessed it, unlimited calls for $25); Small Business Basic (1,500 minutes of calls plus fax service for $40); and Small Business Unlimited (unlimited calls plus fax service for $50).

It is important to potential users to understand that the first two plans are for purely residential use. Should Vonage determine that its service is being used for any kind of business it will move you to a business plan and charge you for all previous service use.

I am delighted with the service. It works, and it is highly cost-effective, flexible and, so far, highly reliable. And no more death of a thousand pecks.

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