1998 Long Distance Phone Rates Pricing Survey

 

PLEASE NOTE: This 1998 publication is not current, and should be used only as historical information.

Table of Contents

Finding the lowest long distance rates

Survey shows the best per-minute rate available from each company, whether you make few or many calls

How to use this survey

The survey charts show the lowest per-minute rates on interstate calls from 14 phone companies, during the Daytime, Evening/Night and Weekend rate periods. (See plan descriptions for rate period hours.) Rates in the first chart are for callers with small monthly bills-under $10. The next chart is for people with bills of $10-25, and the third chart covers larger bills.

Most of the carriers offer more than one calling plan. The rates quoted are connected to specific calling plans. The rate shown for a carrier in the Daytime category may be from a different calling plan than the rate shown for the same carrier in the Evening/Night or Weekend category. The chart details for each carrier in the plan descriptions explains which plans are used and if volume discounts were calculated. This allows you to pick the carrier and calling plan with the best rates during the hours you make the most calls. Go to the plan descriptions section for full descriptions of all plans and carrier contact numbers.

Some plans have monthly fees-they are shaded in gray. Rates do not reflect additional calling circle discounts offered by some carriers. Toll-free numbers for all the companies appear with the calling plan descriptions. Use the chart and listings only as a guide-rates and calling plans can change at any time.

How to find a calling plan that will save you money

  • Each person's calling pattern is different. Review several months' worth of your long distance bills. Look for patterns.
  • All two-rate plans are not created equal. Some carriers' plans begin to offer the lowest rate at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. instead of at 7 p.m. One carrier (GTE) now allows you to choose from four peak 12-hour periods. If you make many calls between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., these plans may result in a savings for you.
  • If the amount of your monthly bill is less than $25, consider a one- or two-rate plan.
  • Do you make many calling card calls or use a cellular phone? Look for a plan that includes these calls.
  • When you switch long distance carriers, your local phone company charges you a one-time fee, usually around $5. Some long distance carriers will reimburse new customers for this expense.
  • Some carriers bill their calls in full minutes, others in increments of six seconds and even one second after the first full minute. Some even bill in six-second increments from the beginning of the call. Unless otherwise noted under "Domestic Calling Plans", carriers bill in one-minute increments.
  • If you are considering using a "dial around carrier" (see Glossary), make sure you ask in advance about any monthly fees and per-call minimums. Some carriers charge a $5 monthly access fee in any month you use their dial around service, even if you only make one call.

Chart of Rates for monthly bills of under $10

Rates for monthly bills of under $10

Carrier Daytime (per minute) Evening Night (per minute) Weekend (per minute)
AT&T 15¢ 15¢ 15¢
Express Tel 15¢ 15¢ 15¢
Frontier 15¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
GTE 14¢ 14¢ (from 5 p.m.) 14¢
Matrix ($5 minimum charge) 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
Pac-West Telecomm 8.9¢ 7.9¢ (from 5 p.m.) 7.9¢
Sprint 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢
TransNational 14.7¢ 14.7¢ 14.7¢
VarTec 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
Working Assets 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
WorldCom 13.9¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
Plans with monthly fees
AT&T 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Excel 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Express Tel 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
LCI 15¢ 9¢ (from 7 p.m.)
Matrix 9.9¢ 9.9¢ 9.9¢
TransNational 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Working Assets 10¢ 10¢ 10¢

Chart of Rates for monthly bills of $10-$25

Carrier Daytime (per minute) Evening Night (per minute) Weekend (per minute)
AT&T 15¢ 14.4¢ 11.7¢
Express Tel 15¢ 15¢ 15¢
Frontier 15¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
GTE 14¢ 12.6¢ (from 5 p.m.) 12.6¢
Matrix ($5 minimum charge) 14.5¢ 9.9¢ (from 7 p.m.) 9.9¢/Sundays 5¢
MCI 12¢-15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
Pac-West Telecomm 8.9¢ 7.9¢ (from 5 p.m.) 7.9¢
Sprint 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢
TransNational 14.7¢ 14.7¢ (from 7 p.m.) 14.7¢
VarTec 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
Working Assets 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
WorldCom 13.9¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
Plans with monthly fees
AT&T 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Excel 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Express Tel 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
LCI 15¢ 9¢ (from 6 p.m.)
Matrix 9.9¢ 9.9¢ 9.9¢
TransNational 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Working Assets 10¢ 10¢ 10¢

Chart of Rates for monthly bills of more than $25

Carrier Daytime (per minute) Evening Night (per minute) Weekend (per minute)
AT&T 15¢ 12¢ 9.75¢
Express Tel 15¢ 15¢ 15¢
Frontier 15¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
GTE 14¢ 10.5¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10.5¢
Matrix ($5 minimum charge) 14.5¢ 9.9¢ (from 7 p.m.) 9.9¢/Sundays 5¢
MCI 12¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
Pac-West Telecomm 8.9¢ 7.9¢ (from 5 p.m.) 7.9¢
Sprint 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢
TransNational 14.7¢ 14.7¢ (from 7 p.m.) 14.7¢
VarTec 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
Working Assets 15¢ 10¢ (from 7 p.m.) 10¢/Sundays 5¢
WorldCom 13.9¢ 10¢ (from 5 p.m.) 10¢
Plans with monthly fees
AT&T 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Excel 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Express Tel 12¢ 12¢ 12¢
LCI 15¢ 9¢ (from 7 p.m.)
Matrix 9.9¢ 9.9¢ 9.9¢
TransNational 10¢ 10¢ 10¢
Working Assets 10¢ 10¢ 10¢

Domestic calling plan details

(Unless otherwise noted, all carriers serve customers nationwide.)

AT&T (chart details)

  1. Under $10: Rates with no monthly fee are for One Rate plan in all time periods. Monthly fee-based rates are for One Rate Plus plan.
  2. $10-$25 and $25 plus: Daytime rates with no monthly fee are for One Rate plan; all other time periods are for True Reach plan including volume discount. All monthly fee-based rates are for One Rate Plus plan.

AT&T (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 222-0300

One Rate

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: One Rate customers pay 15¢ per minute on all interstate direct dialed calls. Intrastate calls are 15¢ or less per minute, depending on the state.

One Rate Plus

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $4.95
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: One Rate Plus customers pay 10¢ per minute on all interstate direct dialed calls. Intrastate calls are 10¢ or less per minute, depending on the state.

True Reach

  • Type of plan: Volume Discount
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: True Reach offers a 10% discount on monthly long distance bills between $10 and $24.99 and a 25% discount on bills of $25 or more. The discount is applied to all domestic (U.S.) calls, including direct dialed, calling card, operator-assisted, directory assistance and long distance cellular calls.

Excel (chart details)

All rates shown are for Dime Deal plan.

Excel (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 875-9235

(This company bills calls in six-second increments after the first minute.)

Dime Deal

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $1
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Dime Deal customers pay 10¢ per minute on all interstate calls.

Express Tel (chart details)

  1. All rates with no monthly fees are for Flat 15 plan.
  2. All monthly fee-based rates are for Timeless 12 plan.

Express Tel (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 748-6350

(Express Tel customers must be residents of Arizona, California, Nevada or Utah. Calls are billed in six-second increments.)

Timeless 12

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $2.95
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Timeless 12 customers pay 12¢ per minute for all interstate calls made in the continental U.S. (Calls to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are 19¢ per minute.)

Flat 15

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Flat 15 customers pay 15¢ per minute for all interstate calls made in the continental U.S. (No discount is given on calls to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

Frontier (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for Frontier One plan.
  2. All rates in Evening/Night and Weekend time periods are for HomeSaver plan.

Frontier (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 482-4848

(This company bills calls in six-second increments after the first minute.)

HomeSaver

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times).
  • Plan description: Interstate calls are billed at 25¢ per minute during peak hours and 10¢ per minute at all other times.

Frontier One

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Frontier One customers pay 15¢ per minute on all interstate direct dialed calls.

GTE (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for Total Call plan.
  2. Under $10 rates for Evening/Night and Weekend time periods are for Total Call plan.
  3. $10-$25 rates for Evening/Night and Weekend time periods are for Easy Savings plan with 10% volume discount included. (*Easy Savings customers may choose to have Evening/Night hours begin at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.)
  4. $25 plus rates for Evening/Night and Weekend time periods are for Easy Savings with 25% volume discount included.

GTE (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 483-3737

GTE Total Call

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Total Call customers pay 14¢ per minute on all interstate calls. Plan also includes a personal toll-free "800" number with a flat rate of 25¢ per minute.

GTE Easy Savings

  • Type: Two-rate plan & Volume discount
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Customers may choose their own 12-hour peak and off-peak periods. For example, you may choose 5 p.m.-5 a.m. or 8 p.m.-8 a.m. as your off-peak hours-other times would be considered your peak hours.
  • Plan description: Easy Savings customers pay 27¢ per minute during peak hours and 14¢ per minute at other times. Monthly long distance bills of $10-$24.99 are discounted by 10% and bills of more than $25 by 25%.

LCI International (chart details)

  1. All rates are for LCI Difference plan.

LCI International (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 524-4685

(This company bills in one-second increments after the first full minute.)

LCI Difference

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: Peak (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times).
  • Plan description: Customers pay 15¢ per minute during peak hours and 9¢ per minute for calls made during off-peak hours on all interstate calls.

LCI Two Rate

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $1
  • Rate periods included: Peak (6 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times).
  • Plan description: Customers pay 25¢ per minute during peak hours and 10¢ per minute for calls made during off-peak hours on all interstate calls.

LCI Single Rate

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $1
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay 15¢ per minute on all interstate calls

Matrix (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for M-TALK plan.
  2. All Evening/Night and Weekend rates are for SmartWorld plan.
  3. All monthly fee-based rates are for Y.E.S. plan.

Matrix (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 282-0242

(This company bills in six-second increments.)

Y.E.S.

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $4.95
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Y.E.S. customers pay 9.9¢ per minute on all interstate calls.

M-TALK

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: M-TALK customers pay 14.5¢ on all interstate calls.

SmartWorld

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times).
  • Plan description: SmartWorld customers pay 19.9¢ for peak-hour calls and 9.9¢ at off-peak times.

MCI (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for MCI One Extra plan.
  2. All Evening/Night and Weekend rates are for MCI One Savings plan.

MCI (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 444-3333

MCI One Savings

  • Type: Two-rate plan featuring lower rates on Sundays
  • Monthly fee: None. However, this plan has a $5 monthly minimum usage requirement.
  • Rate periods included: Peak (Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.), off-peak (Monday-Friday, 7 p.m.-7 a.m. and all day Saturday) and Sunday (12 a.m.-midnight)
  • Plan description: On interstate calls, MCI One customers pay 25¢ per minute during peak hours, 10¢ per minute during off-peak hours and 5¢ per minute on Sundays.

MCI One Extra

  • Type: One-rate plan featuring lower rates on Sunday
  • Monthly fee: None. However, this plan has a $5 monthly minimum usage requirement.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: On interstate calls, MCI One Extra customers pay 15¢ per minute at all times except Sunday, when they pay 5¢ per minute. If monthly bill totals at least $15, customers pay 12¢ per minute at all times except Sunday.

Pac-West Telecomm (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for One Rate plan.
  2. All Evening/Night and Weekend rates are for Day/Nite plan.

Pac-West Telecomm (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 795-5388

(Pac-West Telecomm customers must be California residents.)

One Rate

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay 8.9¢ per minute for interstate calls within the continental U.S. and 13.9¢ per minute for calls to Alaska and Hawaii.

Day/Nite Plan

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Day (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Night, all other times.
  • Plan description: Customers pay 17.9¢ during the day and 7.9¢ at night for interstate calls within the continental U.S. (Calls to Alaska and Hawaii are 13.9¢ per minute regardless of time period.)

Sprint (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for Sprint Sense Day.
  2. All Evening/Night and Weekend rates are for Sprint Sense.

Sprint (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 746-3767

Sprint Sense

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times).
  • Plan description: Peak interstate calls are billed at 25¢ per minute and off-peak interstate calls are 10¢ per minute.

Sprint Sense Day

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Interstate calls are billed at 15¢ per minute.

TransNational (chart details)

  1. All rates with no monthly fees are for Simple Rate plan.
  2. All monthly fee-based rates are for Dime Anytime plan.

TransNational Communications (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 800-8400

Simple Rate

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: No
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Simple Rate customers pay 14.7¢ per minute for all interstate calls.

Dime Anytime

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $3.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Dime Anytime customers pay 10¢ per minute for all interstate calls.

VarTec (chart details)

  1. All rates are for Small Change plan. (Rates for VarTec's
  2. 10-Talk plan are 10¢ per minute but carry a per-call surcharge of 20¢.)

VarTec (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 544-1510

Small Change

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Small Change customers pay 12¢ per minute on interstate calls.

VarTec 10-Talk

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None. However, a 20¢ surcharge is added to the cost of each call.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: 10-Talk customers pay 10¢ per minute on interstate calls. International flat rates to 40 countries are also included in the plan automatically. (10-Talk may also be used as a "dial around" plan by dialing the access code 10636 before each call.)

Working Assets (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates with no monthly fees are for Round the Clock plan.
  2. All Evening/Night rates with no monthly fees are for Best Hours plan. (*Customers who live in California, Oregon or Washington states pay these rates from 5 p.m.-9 a.m.)
  3. All Weekend rates with no monthly fees are for Sunday Savings plan.
  4. All monthly fee-based rates are for Round the Clock Plus plan.

Working Assets (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 788-8588

Best Hours

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak (all other times). For customers in California, Oregon and Washington, peak hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Plan description: Peak interstate calls are billed at 25¢ per minute and off-peak interstate calls are 10¢ per minute.

Sunday Savings

  • Type: Two-rate plan featuring lower rates on Sundays
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.), off-peak (Monday-Friday, 7 p.m.-7 a.m. and all day Saturday) and Sunday (12 a.m.-midnight)
  • Plan description: On interstate calls, customers pay 25¢ per minute during peak hours, 10¢ per minute during off-peak hours and 5¢ per minute on Sundays.

Round the Clock

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay 15¢ per minute on all interstate direct dialed calls.

Round the Clock Plus

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $4.50
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay 10¢ per minute on all interstate direct dialed calls.

Volume Discount Plan

  • Type: Volume discount plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Three: Daytime (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays), Evening (5 p.m.-11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and on Sundays) and Night/Weekend (11 p.m.-8 a.m. daily, all day on Saturdays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays).
  • Plan description: Basic interstate rates are discounted by 7.5% on monthly bills of $24.99 or less; 25% on bills of $25-$50 and 30% on bills of more than $50.

WorldCom (chart details)

  1. All Daytime rates are for Home Advantage Easy plan.
  2. All Evening/Night and Weekend rates are for Home Advantage plan.

WorldCom (Domestic Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 275-0100

Home Advantage

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays) and off-peak, all other times.
  • Plan description: Home Advantage customers pay 25¢ per minute on interstate calls during peak hours and 10¢ per minute at other times.

Home Advantage Easy

  • Type: One-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Home Advantage Easy customers pay 13.9¢ per minute on interstate calls. (Billing for this plan is in six-second increments after the first full minute.)

International calling plans

International plans offer discounts or discounted flat rates on calls to certain countries at peak and off-peak time periods. The fact that rates and time periods vary by country makes it difficult to give anything more than general descriptions or advice about international calling plans.

Just because you are enrolled in a domestic (U.S.) calling plan doesn't mean you will pay less for international calls. However, a few carriers give discounts on domestic rates as well international rates under the same calling plan. With most carriers, you need to sign up separately for domestic and international calling plans.

Most international plans charge a monthly fee, so it pays to use these plans only if you make enough calls overseas each month to offset that fee.

To choose the best plan, you will have to know which countries you call on a regular basis. Compare the rate periods to determine if the lowest rates (off-peak) are offered at a convenient time for your calls. Some carriers offer one flat rate good for 24 hours to specific countries, even though they have two rate periods for other countries.


AT&T (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 222-0300

One Rate International

  • Type: Flat rate plan, by country
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay a single per-minute flat rate for each country for international direct dialed calls regardless of when you call. The per-minute rate varies by country.

Excel (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 875-9235

WorldRate One

  • Type: Flat rate plan, by country
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay a single per-minute flat rate for each country for international direct dialed calls regardless of when you call. The per-minute rate varies by country.

Frontier (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 482-4848

Global Connections

  • Type: Flat rate plan, by country
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Calls to more than 50 countries are billed at a flat, per-minute rate which varies by country.

GTE (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 483-3737

International Plan II

  • Type: Flat rate plan, by country.
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay a single per-minute flat rate for each country for international direct dialed calls regardless of when you call. The per-minute rate varies by country.

LCI International (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 524-4685

Tell the World

  • Type: One-rate plan, by country
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Calls placed from the customer's home to 84 countries are billed at a flat, per-minute rate which varies by country.

Matrix (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 282-0242

Ring Russia

  • Type: Two-rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $2.95
  • Rate periods included: Two rate periods, Sundays through Fridays, and Saturdays.
  • Plan description: Customers pay 59¢-69¢ for calls to the former Soviet Union, depending on the day of the week.

MCI (International Calling Plan Descriptions)

(800) 444-3333

MCI Global Calling

  • Type: One rate plan effective on calls to 11 Asian countries and the former Soviet Union
  • Monthly fee: $3. This plan also has a $5 monthly minimum usage requirement.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay a single per-minute flat rate for each country for international direct dialed calls regardless of when you call. The per-minute rate varies by country. Calls to Canada are 5¢ per minute all day on Sundays.

MCI One International

  • Type: One rate plan, by country
  • Monthly fee: $3. This plan also has a $5 monthly minimum usage requirement.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Customers pay a single per-minute flat rate for each country for international direct dialed calls regardless of when you call. Plan includes calls to Mexico "mileage bands" 2, 3 and 4 for 49¢ per minute. Sunday calls to Canada are 5¢ per minute.

Sprint (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 746-3767

Sprint Sense International Weekend Savings Plan

  • Type: Flat-rate plan that varies by country and time period
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: Three: weekday peak, weekday off-peak and weekend.
  • Plan description: Customers pay a specially discounted flat per-minute rate for each country for international direct dialed calls. This plan can be combined with any of Sprint's domestic calling plans.

TransNational (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 800-8400

World Advantage

  • Type: Domestic and international flat rate plan
  • Monthly fee: $2.95
  • Rate periods included: Peak and off-peak
  • Plan description: Plan offers discounted flat rates for calls made during off-peak rate periods to 33 countries. Domestic calls are billed at 26.9¢ per minute during the day and 12.9¢ per minute at other times. The WorldPlus plan, with a $4.95 monthly fee, offers domestic daytime rates of 23.7¢ to 30.6¢ per minute and at all other times, 9.9¢ per minute.

VarTec (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 544-1510

10-Talk

  • Type: Flat rates to certain countries.
  • Monthly fee: No. However, there is a 20¢ surcharge on every call.
  • Rate periods included: All
  • Plan description: Offers 24-hour rates to 40 countries. If other countries are called, the rate will be figured on a 20% discount off AT&T's basic international rates.

Working Assets (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 788-8588

International Discount Plan

  • Type: Flat-rate plan that varies by country and time period
  • Monthly fee: $3
  • Rate periods included: Three: weekday peak and weekday off-peak (vary by country) and weekend (12 a.m. Saturday-12 a.m. Monday).
  • Plan description: Customers pay a specially discounted flat per-minute rate for each country for international direct dialed calls. (Weekend rates are the lowest.) Calls to the United Kingdom and Canada are 10¢ per minute on weekends.

WorldCom (International Calling Plan Description)

(800) 275-0100

WorldChoice

  • Type: Flat rate that varies by country and time period
  • Sign up required: Yes
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Rate periods included: Peak and off-peak
  • Plan description: Plan offers discounted flat rates for calls made during off-peak rate periods. The plan includes countries that can be called at any time for a single per-minute rate.

A long distance glossary

  • Calling circle: Callers receive lower rates when they call customers of the same long distance company. (Of carriers surveyed this year, only Excel and Working Assets offer calling circle discounts.)
  • Dial around plan: Customers who are signed up (see "sign up") with one long distance carrier can use another carrier by dialing its five-digit access code to "dial around" their own carrier. Callers who use this method are called "casual callers."
  • Dial around carrier: A company or calling plan that requires users to dial a five-digit access code before each number.
  • Direct dialed calls: Calls you dial yourself without the assistance of an operator.
  • Flat rate: Long distance charges based on a flat per-minute rate, not on mileage.
  • Interstate: Between states.
  • International: To another country.
  • Intrastate: Within the same state.
  • Off-peak: Term used by carriers to denote one of two time periods. Off-peak is the time of day when people make the least phone calls, and therefore the rates are cheaper. With domestic (U.S.) calls, off-peak is usually evenings and weekends. On international calls, the off-peak period varies by country.
  • One-rate plan: Calling plans that charge one flat per-minute rate on all calls, no matter what time or day of the week it is.
  • Peak: Term used by carriers to denote one of two time periods. Peak is the time of day when people make the most phone calls, and therefore rates are higher than during the off-peak period. With domestic (U.S.) calls, peak is usually weekdays during business hours. On international calls, the peak period varies by country.
  • Rate period: Standard rate periods for long distance calling are Day, the most expensive; Evening/Night, less expensive; and Weekends, the least expensive. While rate periods are becoming less standardized, Day is usually 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, Evening/Night, all other times on Monday through Fridays, and Weekend, Saturdays and Sundays. Many of the newer two-rate plans use 12-hour rate periods Mondays through Fridays, such as 7 a.m.-7 p.m. for Day and all other times for Evening/Night.
  • Sign up: You have the right to choose your long distance carrier. Most carriers require that you sign up for their services. This is also called "presubscribing" to the carrier of your choice.
  • Two-rate plan: Calling plans that have two rate periods. See "peak" and "off-peak."
  • Volume discount: A percentage is deducted from your total long distance bill.

The Story - Flat rate calling plans take over long distance market

(CA's analysis of the survey data)

The long distance marketplace has changed dramatically in the past two years. Longtime practices have been overhauled, resulting in new opportunities for consumers to save money around the clock.

Among the most remarkable industry changes are:

  • The wide choice of carriers that charge a flat per-minute rate, no matter what time or day you call.
  • Carriers who charge a higher rate during the daytime, but offer their very lowest weekday rates starting at 5 or 6 p.m., not 7 p.m., or even 11 p.m.
  • The demise of mileage-based calls. In most cases, the per-minute rate is the same if you call from New York to Pennsylvania, or if you call from New York to California.
  • Some carriers give you their best rates automatically, even if you don't pick a calling plan.

Now you don't have to wait until 11 p.m. on weekday evenings to get the very lowest rates.

New rules

In its 1998 Long Distance Rate Survey, Consumer Action (CA) found that flat rate calling plans have taken over the long distance marketplace.

"Consumers need to catch up with all the developments and throw out the old rules about the best times to call," said CA Editorial Director Linda Sherry. "Now, you don't have to wait until 11 p.m. on weekday evenings to get the very lowest rates."

Each of the 14 carriers in the survey offers one or more calling plans with a single per-minute rate that is good anytime. (A calling plan is an optional service that allows you to make long distance calls for less money.) Nine of the carriers offered a two-rate variation, charging one per-minute rate on weekdays and another per-minute rate at all other times.

Traditionally, long distance rates were based on mileage and time-of-day calling periods. CA found that flat rate plans have all but eclipsed the old mileage-based rates.

"Everyone who uses long distance service can save money with a flat rate calling plan. With only two types of plan to choose from, it's easy to pick one that's right for you," said Sherry. "One-rate plans save you money if you make mostly daytime calls, and a two-rate plan can save money for people who make most of their calls in the evening, at night or on weekends, when a lower rate is in effect."

Consumers who make large numbers of daytime calls are best off with a one-rate plan that carries a monthly fee, because the per-minute rates on the fee-based plans tend to be even lower, typically 10¢ per minute at all times.

"Getting a plan that matches your calling habits can result in savings of 40% to 60% per month," said Sherry, who conducted the survey with Guadalupe Aguilar of CA's Los Angeles office.

Most companies have plans that cover calls within the U.S. (domestic plans) and calls to other countries (international). The run-down on domestic plans offered by 14 carriers is covered in the plan descriptions section.

Fractional differences

CA found 16 one-rate calling plans, seven of which carry monthly fees. The per-minute rates on the nationally available plans range from 9.9¢ (Matrix) to 15¢ per minute for many carriers. PacWest, which only serves customers in California, offered the lowest flat rate of 8.9¢ on interstate calls.

While most one-rate plans without fees charge 15¢ per minute, four carriers undercut that rate with plans that do not charge monthly fees. They are WorldCom (13.9¢ per minute), GTE (14¢), Matrix (14.5¢) and TransNational (14.7¢).

Volume discounts wane

Only three carriers still offer a volume discount plan, which used to be the standard calling plan. (A volume discount is a percentage, usually 10% to 25%, deducted from your total long distance bill.) AT&T and Working Assets have standard volume discount plans, while GTE offers a two-rate plan with volume discounts when you spend more than $10-$25 per month.

Another new twist is MCI's one-rate plan, which bills interstate calls at 15¢ per minute, except for bills of $15 or more, when the rate is 12¢ per minute. (The plan has a $5 minimum monthly charge.) MCI and Working Assets also offer "5¢ Sundays" with their flat rate plans.

Finding the best rate

CA calculated the lowest per-minute rates available from the 14 carriers, factoring in their best calling plans where applicable. The findings are presented in three easy-to-use charts that considers differences in calling patterns.

The three charts are based on the amount of your monthly bills - less than $10, between $10-25 and more than $25 per month. They give the lowest rates for each company in the three rate periods: Day, Evening/Night and Weekend. You can compare rates based on your long distance usage.

LCI broke away from its competitors recently when it announced it would bill its calls in one-second increments after the first minute. (Traditionally, long distance calls have been billed by the minute and calls have been rounded to the next minute.) An increasing number of carriers bill in six-second increments after the first minute, including Excel, Express Tel, Frontier, Matrix and WorldCom. This has the potential to save you money.

Rate periods evolve

Few carriers still use rate periods anymore to determine the price of calls. It used to be that 8 a.m.-5 p.m. was considered "Daytime," 5 p.m.-11 p.m., "Evening" and all other times "Night/Weekend." Now the "Daytime" rate period is usually 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, although this can vary by carrier and even by the customer's personal choice (see description of GTE's Easy Savings Plan).

The "Evening/Night" rate period is all other times during the weekdays. The "Weekend" rate period can stand alone or be rolled into the "Evening/Night" category, depending on the carrier.

Automatic discounts

Traditionally, long distance customers had to be on a calling plan to get the best rate. In the past, if you signed up with a long distance company but didn't pick a calling plan, you'd be charged the carrier's most expensive rates, called dial one rates. While this is still true for most carriers, CA found that three companies surveyed - Frontier, LCI, Matrix and Pac-West Telecomm - automatically give new customers a calling plan rate.

Bells & whistles

While calling plans look similar, CA found that carriers are differentiating themselves with "bell & whistles" extras, such as calling cards with no per-call surcharges and a flat per-minute rate, "free" personal toll-free 800 numbers and lower intrastate rates.

AT&T includes all domestic calls in its True Reach volume discount plan, including calling card, operator-handled and cellular, as well as calls to directory assistance.

With both its calling plans, Express Tel offers a calling card with no surcharge and a flat 15¢ per minute interstate rate. Frontier One calling plan customers receive a calling card with no surcharge and a flat rate of 25¢ per minute.

Customers enrolled in the LCI Difference calling plan get an international discount plan with flat rates to more than 80 countries and a personal toll-free 800 number. (Personal toll-free numbers are growing in popularity. They are most typically used when family members call home from a pay phone, school or someone else's house.)

Before you sign up for an interstate calling plan, check out its in-state rates. Some plans offer flat rates on calls to other places in your state.

Using the Internet can save you money on phone calls

There's a long distance price war raging, but the lowest rates offered depend on Internet technology. With some plans, calls are routed over the Internet on the way to their destinations. Others use regular phone lines but require a computer, because they are offered only to members of online networks or require that you receive your bill online.

Carriers can route calls more efficiently by using the Internet or Internet-like systems to carry voice and data traffic in the same way Internet providers do. The industry calls these "Internet protocol backbone networks." Internet protocol uses a regular phone to get to an Internet "gateway" where the caller's voice is digitized and compressed in order to be able to move through the Internet before it is reassembled at the phone at the other end.

Callers using an Internet protocol system typically must dial an access number, then a personal authorization code, and then the number being called-up to 32 numbers in all.

A revolution?

The new technology is being hailed by industry experts as a revolution that will lower all long distance rates. Eventually, they say, the Internet will be a major avenue for the transmission of phone calls. At this point, however, users admit there are occasional problems with voice quality using Internet protocol, but they claim that the price makes it worthwhile to hang up and dial again if necessary.

The lowest rate so far among companies using Internet protocol is the 5¢ per minute announced by New Jersey-based IDT Corp in early March. IDT also offers rates as low as 9¢ per minute to London. (The company's customer service number is 1-800-CALL-IDT.)

Quest Communications, a telecommunications company known mainly for prepaid phone cards, jumped into the fray in February with its Q-Talk plan using the Internet to carry calls. Quest offers an interstate rate of 7.5¢ per minute to consumers in a limited number of markets, including parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. (The company's customer service number is 1-888-335-4211.)

Another company that plans to use the Internet to offer deep discounts is ICG Communications. The company, offering competitive local service in many areas, will roll out its 5.9¢ per minute rate in 166 cities nationwide this summer or fall. As yet, the company has not published a customer service number.

Online billing

Companies are pushing online plans because they save on billing. Computer owners can enter their own billing information when they sign up, pay with a credit card, and review phone bills on their computers.

"It's easy to see why carriers would embrace the use of online billing," said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. "They save on paper and postage, and credit card billing reduces the chance that consumers won't pay their bills."

AT&T One Rate Online lets consumers order the company's long distance service directly from its web site at www.att.com, and offers rate cuts to consumers who agreed to peruse their long distance bills on line. Online customers get the same 10¢ per minute flat rate that AT&T One Rate Plus customers do, but the monthly fee is $1 for the online service and $4.95 for the traditional calling plan. (AT&T customers who also have the World Net Internet service unlimited use option-$19.95 per month-will pay 9¢ per minute and no monthly fee.)

AT&T will roll out another service called World Net Voice this spring in three cities. Using Internet protocol, the plan will charge 7.5¢-9¢ per minute for interstate calls.

"The Internet has enabled us to take a big step forward in the way we do business with our customers," said Dan Schulman of AT&T.

MCI also has a plan that requires online sign-up and billing. Interstate calls are 9¢ per minute Monday-Friday and 5¢ on Sundays. For information, go to MCI's web site).

For members only

America Online offers its members a 9¢ per minute long distance rate. To qualify, you have to be signed up to America Online's online network, which costs about $30 per month and offers access to the Internet as well as the provider's own online forums. For information, call 1-800-530-5990.

 

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