This blog is a way for me to share hard learned lessons about money with those who are just starting out on their own. I hope it's a way for you to avoid making the mistakes I made, and to benefit from my experiences

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ode to good old traditional telephone

In my previous post, I wrote about a fascinating new development in telephone technology. Now I'm going to tell you why I won't be buying it. Reliability.

The traditional telephone is over 100 years old. With age and regulation, the telephone companies have made traditional telephone service utterly reliable. Every time I pick up the phone, the friendly dial tone is there waiting for me. Every time I dial (assuming I dial the right number), the connection is made. My traditional phone services has worked during cable outages, storms, electrical outages, and even after the Loma Prieta earthquake. There are no mysterious outages. There is no doubt that when I dial 911, it'll connect to the right emergency response center, and they'll know who and where I am.

I can't tell you how many times my cable internet stopped working for no apparent reason, or recently my DSL modem died, again for no apparent reason.
How often does your computer mysteriously lock up? If phone is routed through the computer, you're screwed when that happens too.

Traditional phone service is also competitively priced with newer VOIP phone services too, if you shop for it. My traditional local phone bill is about $17 per month with taxes and junk fees. My separate long distance bill is usually under $2. When I get those calls from Comcast or some long distance company asking me to switch, I tell them my total phone bill is less than $20, beat that. So far, they've always said they can't. I think Comcast is advertising $39.99 for phone and all the long distance you can eat. What a rip off? For that price, I can have my regular phone and about 9 1/2 hours of long distance a month (at 4 cents a minute with no monthly fees or minimum usages), like I'd ever use that much!

I'd bet 80% of the people who buy VOIP from Vonage or their cable company, can get a much more reliable service and better price from their local phone company and a competing long distance company, then they ever could from a VOIP competitor. Oh yeah, and they don't have to worry about their old telephone company going belly up and screwing them, like SunRocket just did.

Maybe when VOIP can claim a track record of going years without an outage, will I be tempted to switch.

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$39.99 per year for telephone?

How would you like to spend $39.99 per year for telephone service. That's it. How can that be you ask? There's a new company out there called Magic Jack.

Here's how it works. You buy this little doohickey that plugs into the USB port of your computer, and then you plug your regular old telephone into the doohickey. Presto, you've got a telephone. The company gives you a telephone number, and you can call and receive just like normal using your telephone. There are no long distance charges for anywhere you call the USA and Canada. No monthly land line charges. You can even take your phone with you when you travel. Connect your laptop to the hotel wi-fi, or any hotspot, plug in the magic jack and a small telephone, and you've got your home phone with you wherever you go. You even get free voice mail.

Here's the part I don't like. You have to have an always on broadband connection, and you must leave your computer on all the time, and hope it doesn't crash. Still, it's an interesting new development.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stickin' to the (phone) man!

I have DSL Hi-Speed Internet (the Slowskys not withstanding) with my local monopoly phone company. I purchased their modem / wireless router about a 1 1/2 years ago and have enjoyed reliable and cheaper service since then.

When I recently returned from a 1-week vacation, I noticed the modem was flashing all kinds of crazy lights. Usually it's just 2 or 3 solid green lights. So I knew it had lost the DSL connection. I unplugged it for 30 seconds and then plugged it in again. Same crazy flashing lights. So I unplugged it and went to bed. The next morning I plugged it in and the thing was completely dead. No lights at all.

So I called the monopoly phone company tech support and they inform me that yup, my modem is dead. It'll be $80 + tax and shipping for a new one. I'll have to call the estore to order. Not being too crazy about this idea, I check out my cable company. They're running a special for $19.99 a month for 6 months, and a $30 modem.

So I call the monopoly phone company again and tell them I wish to cancel. After getting the right person, they of course ask why. And I tell them. My modem crapped out and I'm not going to spend $90+ for a new one. I suspected they would cave and send me a new one for free, just to retain me as a customer, and that's exactly what they did. Today I'm looking at my shiny new, and free, DSL modem.

Moral of the story is, don't be afraid to cancel services. The only caveat is, you have to be a customer in good standing. Businesses know that it's much more expensive to get a new customer than retain one. It's worth it to them to give upgrades or improvements to keep you as a customer.

I routinely do this with credit cards and get all sorts of nice freebies. The credit cards will almost always offer me free money. 0% for X many months. Oh and by the way, tell them you want them to waive or cap the transfer fee. Last go around I got 2 cards to loan me a total of $45k for 10 months, for only a $75 fee. I made close to $200 a month in interest alone.

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