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June 22, 2006

Look before you leap into VoIP

Tom Spring has a cautionary tale of Web Phone Woes at PCWorld:

Pamela Stodghill of Alabama thought Internet-based telephone service would help lower her household’s $65 monthly phone bill. An “unlimited” calling plan from the company 8×8 looked like a great way to stay in touch with distant family and friends.

But despite spending 12 hours on a (landline) phone with 8×8′s tech support staff over the course of a month and despite paying $104 in fees, Stodghill never received working phone service, and she lost the family’s phone number of three years while trying to transfer it from BellSouth, her landline carrier, to 8×8.

Millions of consumers are tempted by inexpensive Net phone services–some priced as low as $10 a month–and Stodghill isn’t the only one to incur huge headaches when things go wrong. She says she gave up on VoIP after spending far too much time dealing with technical problems and installing replacement equipment. “At a certain point you just have to throw in the towel and say, ‘Is this really worth it?’” Stodghill says.

She also reported 8×8 to the Better Business Bureau where VoIP firms are apparently well known.

I tend to think of the possible downsides of VoIP as technical issues such as spotty call quality, limited 911 service, and inability to work when the power is off. This article pointed out some problems that I had never heard of before:

Many VoIP providers impose very restrictive terms of service, including low-usage fees–surcharges that apply if you don’t incur enough regular charges in a month–huge early termination fees, and mandatory shipping costs for returning faulty equipment. ViaTalk requires that the ratio of calls received to those placed be roughly equal; if you receive 75 percent or more of the calls on your account, or make 75 percent or more of them, you risk being designated as a business account and incurring a steep rate hike.

Jean-Claude DeMars of Texas says that Primus tried to charge him $5 extra one month as a low-usage fee. He angrily canceled his service–but then discovered that he would have to pay the shipping fees to return his Primus equipment or face a $40 disconnect fee.

Amazing stuff, but curable by reading the fine print before signing up. More by following the link.

Posted at 3:34 pm. Filed under 8x8, Companies, Internet, Primus, ViaTalk, VoIP

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