Sticking It To The Man (Maybe)

There used to be a time, decades ago, when there was only one telephone carrier and everyone was forced to use it, regardless of whether the service or price sucked. 

Nowadays we have a much greater variety of choices from AT&T to Verizon to MCI for local and long distance calls.  We also have some new comers to the game such as Comcast and Cablevision who offer telephone service over cable.

For the longest time, my mother was using MCI for her local and long distance.  For whatever reason, she suddenly decided (as she is oft inclined to do) that it cost too much.  We decided to switch to AT&T as she felt that it was a trustworthy and reliable brand.  Little did we know that the new AT&T seems to outsource its customer service, charges a hefty connection fee (even when no physical connection setup was required), and she ended up spending exactly the same each month as she did with MCI…

Jump forward a few months after the AT&T debacle (they were still trying to get her to pay a connection fee…).  After a year, her promotional rate with Comcast for Internet connectivity jumped dramatically.  At this time, her best option – of course – was to switch over to the Comcast Triple Play.  We were assured that the cable telephony was a good choice and that the battery backup on the modem meant that even when the power went out, we would still have dialing capabilities.

Of course, what they failed to mention was that if the Internet connectivity gets flaky (as is oft the case with Comcast), so does your ability to use the phone…D’oh!  Well, it should have been obvious to me, but I dunno, I was thinking that maybe the modem had special capabilities that allowed it to operate indepenently of the Internet connectivity.  Turns out that every once in a while, we’ll pick up the phone and there will be no dial tone because the modem loses connection or the DNS servers are down somewhere on the grid or some other issue.  It also turns out that the special telephony modem that we have to use is noticeably slower at servicing Internet traffic compared to my previous Motorola (blazing fast); there is now a noticeable lag when frequenting some of the web pages in my daily queue.

For the time being, the promotional price is great: about $33/month ($99/month for Triple Play for one year) for unlimited long distance to anywhere in the US.  This is much better than what Verizon or AT&T charges for the same features (about $50/month).  What they don’t always make so clear is that after a year, the price jumps dramatically to $140.95/month or roughly the same price for telephone service as with Verizon or AT&T…except without the reliability of the good old PTSN.

If you really sit down to think about it, that comes out to roughly $600/year for phone service.  That’s PS3 territory.

But there is an alternative, there is a brave new world in telephony: Skype (okay, it’s really not that new, but I don’t personally know anyone who uses Skype exclusively of landlines (although I know a few who use cellular lines exclusively)).

I signed up for a free trial at the end of last year that gave me 30 days of SkypeOut for free.  I found the service to be generally acceptable and convenient (since I spend almost all day in front of the computer anyways).

But what makes Skype even more compelling are the new accessories which are being developed around it: standalone (no PC requried) devices which allows one to use Skype as a total replacement for landelines.

The two that I looked into were the Netgear SPH150D and the Philips VOIP8411B.  Both of these phones sport the following features:

  • The latest DECT technology
  • Multi-handset capable (up to 4 each)
  • Dual mode (supports PTSN and Skype)
  • Don’t require PC to use

What seals the deal is that SkypeIn, which allows you to get a number that any landline or cellular line can dial and features unlimited calls anywhere in the US to landlines and cellular lines (and of course free calls to any other Skype user), costs only $60/year.  So for a tenth of the cost of traditional landlines or cable telephony, I can get roughly the same quality services and I can call from my computer.  I also think that the portability is also cool as hell…I can answer my phone anywhere in the world as long as I’m connected to the Internet.

I convinced my wife that when we move this time (just about 20 days to go), we’re gonna try to go cold turkey with Skype (we’re went with the Netgear phone) and see if it’ll work for us.  We both make long duration long distance calls pretty regularly for our jobs so it’ll be interesting to see how it works out.  For us, 911 capabilities is not an issue as we both have cell phones.  Dependency on the Internet connection is also not a problem as it’s no worse than Comcast or Optimum and whenever we tend to be on long important calls, we also tend to be in some sort of net conference…so having the reliability of PTSN is kind of pointless if the net meeting is down. 

So overall, I’m excited to stick it to the man šŸ˜€

I’ll keep this site posted with my review and experiences as I spend more time with Skype and the Netgear phone.


Argh!  Chalk this one up to poor product description, packaging, or something like that, but it wasn’t clear at all that one needs to purchase SkypeOut/Skype Unlimited to receive the unlimited outbound calls.  In essence, $60 only buys an inbound number and unlimited inbound calls…outbound calls with SkypeIn are still charged at local/long distance rates. 

I’m kind of conflicted…on the one hand, dude, it’s $90 for a whole year.  On the other hand: Damn these people for not clearly advertising their services and costs and using sensible bundles to do so.

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