Techno Files...with Riley Gay
A consumer first: Now you can disconnect the phone company

Sometimes keeping a New Year’s resolution can be hard to do. But as long as your resolution was to lower your long distance phone bill, there’s hope.

A good first step is to lose the phone line and send all your calls over your broadband Internet connection.

Internet telephony, known as VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, uses your existing Internet service to route phone calls to just about anywhere in the world for little or no charge over what you already pay for Internet access.

The resulting calls are as clear an as any made from a traditional landline phone, but without the traditionally hefty fees.

The technology to send calls over the Internet has been around for a number of years, but lately it seems that everyone from cable and Internet telephony companies to your local phone company is lining up to provide VoIP service. And that competition has made for lower fees and better service than ever before.

One caveat: For VoIP to work, you need to have a high-speed connection to the Internet. If that goes down, so does your phone. So having a backup system, either cell phone or landline, might be a good idea.

Your next step is to choose a VoIP service that best suits your needs, at a price that works for you. Most providers offer service at a flat monthly rate, usually between $20 and $40, which will give you unlimited local and long distance calling.

With rates falling as they are, it’s best to check several VoIP providers’ websites in order to compare rates and services.

Kyrene Corridor residents may want to consider AT&T’s CallVantage (www.usa.att.com/callvantage) service, or Digital Voice from pioneer VoIP provider Vonage (www.vonage.com).

Both services are affordable and easy to set up. Subscribers simply need to plug an adapter between their computer’s modem and a telephone handset to start using the service.

And making a call is just as easy as with your current phone system.

Besides lowering your monthly costs for phone service, there are other advantages to using VoIP services.

In addition to being able to keep your old number, with some providers you can choose to set up a new “virtual” number in any one of 180 area codes.

You may also be able to get your phone messages sent to you as email, or as voicemail that you can listen to on your computer, along with standard features, such as call waiting, three-way calling, speed dialing, call forwarding and caller ID, available on landline phone services.

And it may be possible for you to take your service on the road with you by simply plugging your adapter into any available high-speed connection.

So if you’re resolved to hanging up on your old phone service, and lowering your long distance bill in the process, plugging into VoIP for all your calls could just be the answer.

Riley Gay is technical services director at Wrangler News.