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Lowdown on Long Distance

May 04, 1997

Are you a big user of long-distance services for both domestic and international calls? If so, it makes sense to do some comparison shopping.

* Check on calling plans. All major phone companies offer fixed-price and cut-rate calling plans, says Angela Ledford, executive director of the Tele-Consumer Hotline. But industry experts estimate that only about one-third of American consumers participate. Often, all that's required to enjoy substantial savings on your long-distance bill is to make a phone call to your carrier and ask which plan might save you money.

* Analyze your calling patterns. If you call a handful of people frequently, it makes sense to zero in on those calls and shop the best rates for those conversations. Let's say your mother lives in another state--or another country--and you call her once a week. Look at when you are calling and how long your conversations usually last. Then call the major carriers and dial-around services to see what they would charge for these calls. With that information, you can make informed decisions about whether to stick with your present service, switch or dial around for specific calls.

* Investigate before you dial. Many of the dial-around services urge you to dial the access code, without specifically telling you what rate or fees you might be paying. By the time you find out by looking at the charges on your monthly phone bill, it's too late. Before you use a phone service, make sure you know the per-minute rate and whether there are usage or monthly service fees.

* Get help. If you find the telephone claims confusing and need assistance sorting through them, there are a number of sources of free help and information. The Tele-Consumer hotline offers free dial-around shopping tips and a list of questions to ask a dial-around service. To access them on the Internet go to http://www.teleconsumer.org/hotline or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tele-Consumer Hotline, Dial Around, P.O. Box 27207, Washington, DC 20005.

*

Consumer Action has just compiled a survey comparing rates of many major phone companies. To get a copy of the survey, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Consumer Action, Long-Distance Survey, 116 Montgomery St., Suite 223, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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