Friday, March 25, 2005


After much deliberation and discussion, we've decided to change long distance services. Our local phone provider is Verizon. They are also our DSL provider and have been our long distance provider. I've heard people complain about them, but frankly, I have no complaints about their service. So, why the change?

It came down to a matter of cost. The way we've bundled our plans together, we get a very small discount for DSL if we take their local phone service and their long distance service. At the time we signed up, we were using cell phones (since discontinued because we didn't use them often enough) and did most of our long distance calls from the cells. The Verizon long distance plan we had was one where you could make calls 24/7 365 for 10 cents/minute. Since we didn't use it often, we never saw much of a charge, if any, and it got us our modest DSL discount (this option was actually suggested by the Verizon rep for users of cell phones and it was a helpful suggestion).

Since dropping our cell phones, we've been using the land line for long distance. We monitor our usage carefully and friends and family have generally taken to calling us rather than vice versa. Shawn, in particular, has been hit by this because she'd prefer to call her grandmothers and parents more regularly than she has been doing. She also has to make calls for school in order to work on projects. The result being that we've been spending about $15/month for the past 3 or 4 months while still having limited calling lengths. In other words, it's frustrating.

I began looking at our options over 3 months ago. VoIP seemed like a good option as you get unlimited calling to anywhere in North America plus you can receive your voice mail from over the Internet and there are a LOT of configuration options. Wanting to try and stick with Verizon, I looked at their service, but it runs $30/month and I've seen other carriers who charge much less than that.

Eventually, I came across SunRocket. They have some financial backing from Nokia and have ties to some of the marketing folks behind MCI's old "Friends and Family" plan (a great marketing idea!). In the old days, MCI was well known for their service. I gave SunRocket a call and a person answered the phone promptly and answered my questions clearly and quickly. That was a good sign. I also checked Broadband Reports to read up on any complaints. There were a few, but overall the reports have been positive. Finally, I did some research in online journals for any reference to SunRocket - positive or negative - and came up with nary a thing (it's good to have a librarian in the house).

On top of all of this was SunRocket's main draw: VoIP for 1 year for $199. That works out to just under $17/month - a little over what we were spending anyhow and we got unlimited calls. Wow! Plus, if I'm unhappy with the service, I can return it within 30 days for a full refund or after 30 days, I'll receive a pro-rated refund based on unused months. In other words, it's basically low-risk. Shawn agreed that it sounded like a good deal, but left it up to me to manage.

After canceling cable television, I decided to wait at least a month before making the switch. Heck, that month of recouped cost is over a third of SunRocket's yearly cost. As the month progressed, reports began popping up that Vonage's signals were being interfered with. I held my breath, but the FCC - to their credit - promptly fined the ISP that was blocking Vonage's signals. Coolio. Vonage is still having some issues and they continue to work with authorities to resolve them.

This week, the FCC announced that they might not let state rules go forward that require local phone companies to drop their land line requirements for DSL subscribers. In other words, currently, if you subscribe to DSL, then you must get a land line from the local phone provider. Some states wanted to change that. The FCC, seeing a possibility of different regulations for different regions and different companies, decided to thwart the state's efforts to regulate that area. This wouldn't disturb me if the FCC ruled that the land line is to be divorced from DSL (as the states want), but there was no guarantee that would happen. So, for the first time in years - maybe ever - I sat down and wrote an email to a Federal government agency. I wrote the email and sent it to each of the FCC commissioners and copied it to Rick Larsen - my local representative. I have yet to receive a reply.

Basically, I'd love to go with the VoIP solution, keep my DSL, and drop the land line altogether. Verizon has said in the past that they want to allow this to happen, which makes sense because requiring a land line on DSL seriously cramps their ability to market a VoIP service (the cost becomes at least $30 for the VoIP plus a monthly $40 or so for the land line plus $33 for DSL charges whereas with cable as your ISP, the cost is just $35 plus the cable modem charge of around $45). However, unless there's government pressure to do this, it may end up being a bit like allowing multiple companies to compete for your local phone carrier business in that everyone says they are for it, but it never happens. Qwest, for instance, already allows people to subscribe to their DSL and not have a local line (only 8,000 people have reportedly gone for this option, which I think is what worries the local companies - losing revenues - but think of the opportunity to gain revenues from people who are dropping land lines in favor of cell phones and cable modems and, as Qwest has proven, so few customers will want to drop the land line for now.) However, even though the 1996 Communications Act says that I should be able to hire Qwest as my formal local carrier, in reality this is not the case. Not that I would necessarily do that (I'm not fond of Qwest's customer service), but if Verizon were to drag on making the changes then I'd certainly consider that option if it were offered to me.

To my mind, paying for local phone service while getting unlimited local and long distance calling through VoIP is being double charged for phone service. The other option would be to switch to a cable modem, but that means switching ISPs and leaving a company whose customer service I like for another company that I've heard plenty of horror stories about (Comcast Cable). I'd rather stay with Verizon as a DSL provider and drop the land line, however, in the future I will certainly reconsider that option if Verizon doesn't act soon or the FCC decides to back off what appears to me to clearly be the consumer friendly, opening the market to further competition choice.

In any case, I didn't want to wait until that choice was made. So, I ordered SunRocket this week. Shawn will be able to talk to her heart's content for a flat rate and I will be able to do the same as well. According to their website, I should receive the equipment from SunRocket in 5-7 days and then be able to receive incoming calls immediately. Outgoing calls will take another 10 days or so to activate. This also means we're going to have a new phone number. Friends and family should call us or we'll call you for the new number. Hm, if I'm so willing to change my phone number, then why should I be so reluctant to change ISPs? If anyone from Verizon is reading this, maybe that question should spur you on to divorcing DSL and land lines. After all, if Qwest doesn't think it's so difficult, then why should it be difficult for you?

Oh, and one other nice thing about SunRocket: on the bottom of the receipt page that indicates my order and new telephone number, there was a link to the Do Not Call Registry that allowed me a quick way (and a quick reminder!) to register my new number before it is even activated. Again, that's good customer service. It doesn't cost them a thing to put the link on their page, but it makes life easier for the customer and initiates good will from the beginning. Smart business.

More reports on our experiences will be forthcoming once the equipment has arrived and everything else is in place.


Scott said...

Some interesting history on the FCC. One of the first major cases to erode the power of McCarthyism was that of Charles Lamb who had represented unions in the 30's, and later became the owner of a television station. Competitors complained to congressmen and senators. To squelch the competition they decided to use the commie card because of his pro-union stance in the past.

Ultimately the FCC set up hearings to revoke or deny his broadcast license. The typical parade of paid witnesses (sounds like today's journalists) was displayed. The problem, Lamb had money to burn, and he and his lawyers blew gigantic holes in the witnesses stories, proving they were lying. One or two of the primary witnesses recanted their testimony and described the government's coaching.

Lamb won, but only because he was wealthy. Most others trashed by the justice department, congressional hearings, and puppets like the FCC didn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to challenge the government in the 50's. Lamb was awarded 2 million dollars in damages for this fiasco, but I don't believe the government ever paid him a cent. Certainly not enough to cover more than a small fraction of his expenses.

The FCC has caved to large corporations many times recently.

1) Now they are allowing commericals to be broadcast louder than the actual show.

2) They are also allowing more than 12 minutes an hour.

3) Allowing new formats without backwards compatibility -- compare this to when color tv came out.


They will decide whichever way big business, tells, er, advises them to. Big business advice always trumps the individual today, as the above policy shifts indicate. They could not have gotten away with the three items above when they acted as attack doggies for McCarthyism. Just think what they'll do to/for us now.

B.D. said...

Good points, Scott!

As a tangent, I was watching my Criterion Collection copy of Spartacus the other day and finally got around to the extras on the release. There's a documentary on it - a short piece - about 10 Hollywood men who went to jail due to the McCarthy hearings. I thought of you when I saw it. Have you seen it?

Scott said...

I don't remember ever seeing Spartacus. I'll put it on my list, especially for the special feature documentary.