There was a time when the original AT&T completely dominated phone service and you had no choice but to use them. AT&T not only owned the phone market, the company also owned your phone. You couldn't buy a phone from anyone else. In fact, you couldn't even buy one from AT&T; you had to rent it from them, and the charge never went away. I even remember AT&T spying into people's homes to figure out if they had bought their own phones, which was strictly forbidden.
How times have changed. The old AT&T monopoly was broken up a quarter of a century ago and the local Bell System phone companies became independent. Initially there were seven "Baby Bells," and what was left of AT&T handled long distance, eventually duking it out with the competition at Sprint and MCI. Then the Baby Bells began merging and buying each other. One of them, SBC Communications, bought the much-diminished AT&T, gave up its Cingular brand they had spent a fortune promoting, and again called itself AT&T. So things have come pretty much full circle.
One thing that has changed is that you can get home phone service from a wide variety of companies. Theoretically that should result in more competition and better rates for residential phone service and business phones. In reality, the deregulated phone companies simply came up with so many rules and plans and services that no one could figure out anymore how high their phone bill would be. People began distrusting the phone company after they were socked with absurdly high charges that were buried somewhere in the fine print. I personally almost stopped making long distance calls for fear of huge charges.
For a while cell phones seemed to promise cheap phone service with fixed fee rate plans. But then the phone companies got greedy again. They lock you in with their mandatory two-year contracts, and then pepper you with extra fees and charges that can add hundreds of dollars to a monthly phone bill. It's still somewhat simpler to keep on top of cell phone charges than the Byzantine landline phone charges, and a lot of people have given up on landline phone service entirely. The problem there is that the voice quality is generally awful. And you're dealing with an industry that thinks "fewest dropped calls" is something to brag about. Geesh!
Fortunately there is an alternative. Just as the Internet has totally revolutionized the way we entertain ourselves and communicate with one another, it is also rolling out Internet phone service. VoIP stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol" and describes Internet phone communication that is now rivaling and surpassing the convenience and quality of traditional landline phone service. Rates are generally a lot lower and legalese is kept to a minimum.
Internet telephony has come a very long way since the first online IP phone. These days you can get very inexpensive plans and packages that let you keep your existing phone number. Plus, you often get all the usual goodies (caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, additional lines, caller block, conferencing, etc.) thrown in for free. Since broadband phone service uses the high-speed Internet connection in your home, you don't need any equipment other than a broadband phone adapter that usually comes with the VoIP service. This is not just a case of switching to a different phone company. It is leaving the old telephone company monopoly behind entirely and using the Internet for phone service instead. Once you switch over, you'll find that it is simpler and better in every respect. And a whole lot less expensive to boot.
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Chris Robertson is an author of Majon International, one of the worlds MOST popular internet marketing companies.
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