How to Buy Long Distance

When buying long distance, you must concern yourself with
  • Access Method
  • Rate Classes
  • Call Measurement
  • Minimums
  • Term
  • Quality of Service

Your first decision when buying long distance is to determine how you should connect with a long distance carrier.

Access Method

There are two access methods to consider:

  • Switched access - By assigning a long distance carrier and a local toll carrier election, your local telephone company will switch your long distance calls to the carrier(s) of your choice. This is the most expensive access method.
  • Dedicated access - This method requires your long distance carrier to order a T1 to connect your phone system to carrier facilities co-located with your local phone company.

The benefit of dedicated access is that it saves your long distance carrier on switched access fees charged by your local telephone company on the time used. Because the T1 can add several hundred dollars to your monthly invoice, dedicated access only is justified if:
  1. You use sufficient minutes to warrant the overhead or
  2. You need special features on your toll-free service that are only available with dedicated access.

You should ask your carrier to quote rates with switched and dedicated access if you are not sure if you use enough minutes to justify a T1.

Once you have chosen an access method, you should then consider the different rate classes.

Rate Classes

There are several rate classes which you need to research as part of your evaluation. For each rate class there likely will be a different rate for each access method. That is why it is important to decide on your access method early. Here are the rate classes:

  • Outbound Calling
    • Interstate (or State-to-State)
    • Intrastate (or InState)
    • IntraLATA (or Local Toll)
    • International
    • Directory Assistance
    • Phone Card
  • Toll-Free Calling
    • Interstate (or State-to-State)
    • Intrastate (or InState)
    • IntraLATA (or Local Toll)
    • International

You need to obtain rates for each rate class but you should know from your present invoice which rate class is the most important to you. Then build an Excel worksheet applying the rates from each carrier to the minutes from your invoice. Add all the costs for each carrier to determine which carrier has the lowest cost, all other things being equal.

We emphasized "all other things being equal" because there are many ways a carrier can alter the bottom line cost to you than the rate charged for each rate class. That brings us to the next consideration in buying long distance, call measurement.

Call Measurement

There is no standard of measurementing calls. If you ignore this important consideration, you are vulnerable to be preyed upon by unethical service providers. One common trick is to make it look like you invoice is based on call duration but to invent a new unit of measure which inflates the cost of every call you make. Ask us about this because those that practice it have most likely called your company more than once attempting to snare your business into their fraudulent trap.

Assuming that your carrier is honestly billing you for actual call duration, what else can differentiate them from other carriers? Here are the measurement factors:
  • Start and Stop Clock
  • Minimum Call Length
  • Rounding
CLOCK
Let's start with the clock. When does the call begin to cost you money? Most carriers today operate with modern networks which use SS7 technology. Simply, SS7 provides signaling capabilities from one end of the call to the other which can convey off-hook and on-hook conditions. Without SS7 a long distance carrier must estimate when the call begins. This estimate is usually either the time of the first ring, the time of the last ring, or after several rings whether the call is completed or not. Ask you carrier how he starts and stops the clock on your calls.

MINIMUM CALL LENGTH
Minimum call length varies from 1 second to 60 seconds. Most carriers have a different minimum call length for domestic calls, international calls, and phone card calls. The standard in the industry today is 18 second domestic minimum and 30 second international minimum. There is no defacto standard for phone card calls.

Longer minimum call lengths cost you money. For average call lengths of 3.5 minutes, the premium you pay for a 60 second minimum vs. 1 second minimum is estimated to be 16.7%!

ROUNDING
The industry standard for call rounding is 6 seconds for domestic and international calls. This means that after the minimum call length is satisfied, the billing system will round your call duration to the next higher 6 seconds. A call lasting 61 seconds will bill as 66 seconds. The shorter the rounding factor, the less you will be charges for time you did not use. Some residential long distance service has a 60 second rounding factor and a 60 second call minimum. This is known as full minute billing.

Minimums

Some programs do not obligate you to spend a minimum amount each month. It is common for business plans to require minimum commitment levels in return for lower rates. By shopping for best minimum you may do more to help your business than finding the best rate. If your business is new or likely to go through a major change during the term of your long distance commitment, you should consider a low minimum to maintain your flexibility. If your usage does not exceed the minimum, you will be billed for the minimum for as long as you have remaining in your service agreement.

You should also consider requiring an annual commitment rather than a monthly commitment if your usage is cyclical throughout the year. Many carriers offer an annual option.

Term

Terms from month-to-month to 3 years are commonly available. In most cases, you can expect a lower rate for a longer term, however, there are some programs which feature one rate for all terms. This may become more popular if long distance rates begin to rise again after many years of reductions.

Quality of Service

Service quality is by no means less important because we have considered it last. Many users believe that all carriers offer equal service quality. But quality of service varies widely.

CALL QUALITY
Call quality is excellent for most carriers. But not all carriers can consistently produce calls free of static and echo. Low volume still affects some calls.

CONNECTION PROBLEMS
Calls today are still frequently plaqued by "dead air" (no ring after dialing), one-way voice (you can hear me but I can't hear you or vice versa),disconnects, and fast busies.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer service quality varies widely. Most carriers cannot afford to have live answer on their customer service lines. Some auto attendant scripts are confusing and frustrating. Customer service personnel may be narrowly trained requiring frequent call transfers accompanied at times by disconnects.

TROUBLE MANAGEMENT
Most users can live with problems as long as the carrier is able to resolve them painlessly. But there is a difference among carriers in the quality of their trouble management teams. This can be especially vexing when using the dedicated access method because problems frequently involve the long distance carrier, the local phone company, and your phone system vendor.

Summary

After reading this guide, you should come away with a better understanding of the issues involved in shopping for long distance. The best advice we can give you is to depend upon an independent agent or consultant when buying long distance because of the complexities of the subject. Your agent or consultant works with these issues daily. Most users cope with the buying decision once every few years.
King Communications - We Make Communications Simple