Internet Phone Service Gives Consumers a Choice

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(ARA) - The long distance industry is disappearing, cell phone companies are combining, telecom giants are spinning off elements and some say much of it is due to something you've never heard of VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) -- or Internet phone service. You read these headlines every day, but does it really mean anything for the average consumer?

Actually, it does, and probably more than you think. It means that finally you, the consumer, actually have a real choice. That equates to better service, lower prices, more innovations and less complication and if you don't like what you're getting, you can finally go somewhere else.

No longer is the competition between just one or two phone companies, or a choice between local and long distance carriers. Cell phones, for example, can now be packaged with all local and long-distance calls included And the newest contender, VOIP, or Internet phone service, brings another option to the table one that can save you a whole lot of money.

VOIP sends voice signals over the Internet instead of the phone network and you need a broadband Internet connection like DSL or cable in order for it to work. But otherwise, it works just like the phone service you have now, using regular phones and regular numbers. The calls you make still get routed into the phone system, you can keep your phone number, and you can receive calls from anywhere as well: the "other party" does not need to have this service.

Until recently, VOIP was a toy that Internet techies used to talk to one another using special gadgets. Though the quality was poor, they loved the challenge as it was new, and got around the local phone companies who charged them exorbitant rates for basic service.

But now, the technology has grown up, and is quickly catching on. Several providers are offering it across the country to consumers who already have high-speed Internet access. One company, Vonage, has even been advertising on network television. Most companies allow you to transfer your old phone number (no matter who your phone company was) to the new VoIP service. No one need know you changed (except you, your enlarged bank account and perhaps your sanity).

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider VOIP:

* First, know you MUST have high-speed Internet access (like DSL or Cable).

* Second, decide if you are willing to give up your landline phone, and transfer that phone number to your VOIP service (yes you can have that same number again) or just add a phone for your long-distance calls or for a second line for your chatty teenager.

* Third, consider any alternative or special needs you have for a home phone service, such as an alarm system hooked to your phone, multiple lines or a fax machine. Each of these is handled differently and you should discuss with the provider.

As you begin shopping, you should also pay close attention to the fine print don't fall for the first listing on your Google-search as the right answer.

For home use (business use may differ), price is the leading factor for changing to VOIP, closely followed by simplicity (installation and billing). But another leading decision factor is a belief in the company. Surprisingly, many VOIP buyers are concerned with the company's image, and want to buy from smaller companies who can still afford to care about the customer versus the huge corporations that have disappointed them. A very refreshing trend.

Though all the well known phone companies are getting into VOIP, there are over 400 smaller companies doing it as well. Among the smaller, yet well-backed companies offering home VOIP is one called SunRocket (, a Virginia-based company that was started by the same two former MCI executives who developed 1-800-Collect and The Neighborhood, two huge customer focused programs that shook up the phone industry. Backed by Nokia, these executives decided to "build a better phone company" using this new technology and an unflagging commitment to making their customers happy.

SunRocket has already launched a telecom first by introducing an annual fixed-rate for all local and long-distance (domestic) calls: $199 is all inclusive (and includes a lot of international calls as well). No tax, no add-ons, no equipment charges, no activation fee. What you see is what you pay. The company's product box includes everything you need to get started. Simply plug in SunRocket's secret black box (called a "gizmo") into your modem, plug your phone into the Gizmo and reboot your computer. You are now ready to talk. And if for any reason you want to cancel the service, it is easy to return the equipment and cancel service at any time. You are simply refunded for the months you have not used.

Give it some thought. If you want to save at least half off your phone bills, and dislike dealing with the details and hassles of monthly phone bills, or wondering about the taxes and extra charges on them, consider VoIP phone service. After reading a few of the offers from various companies, make sure you consider the company's personality as well. Look for a solid company, with good backing and superior management that believes in customer service. Already there are companies out there who are shaking up the phone industry again this time for the good.
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