FCC Offers Tips to Help Save Money on Long Distance Calls
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 24, 2002 "Calling Home: What You Should Know" is the title of a new Federal Communications Commission brochure that tells service members overseas and stateside how to save money when keeping in touch with families and friends via telephones.
The brochure is packed with information about making long distance contact cheaper for defense personnel and their families, according to K. Dane Snowden, chief of the FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau in Washington.
"The FCC is trying to educate people about what their options and rights are," Snowden said during a recent interview. "We've created a brochure that we'll distribute to military installations across the country and abroad so everyone will have this information at their fingertips.
"The brochure contains different calling options," Snowden noted. "It tells consumers what to ask a carrier before they sign up for a particular calling plan, explains what a '10-10' dollar round plan is and tells them where they can go should they have any problems with a carrier."
All consumers will find the tips helpful, but the FCC designed the program specifically for military personnel. Snowden said all the information is in a central location, either in the brochure or through the FCC Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb. The toll free number is 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). The TTY number is: 1-88-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322).
"We encourage military personnel, DoD civilian employees and their families and friends to find out what's best for them based on their calling pattern, then get on a calling plan," Snowden said. "It's important for them to know what their options are. Our goal is to save them money, so we felt it was appropriate for us to get involved and share information we have with our military families."
He said one of the most important questions to ask a carrier is if the carrier has a military option plan? "A lot of carriers are providing the option of military plans for defense personnel," Snowden said.
Snowden said most people don't realize they need to shop around for the best deal in telephone service "as we would do for a car or dishwasher.
"If you have access to the Internet, check out the different carrier's Websites. If they have a search button, look for 'military plans,'" Snowden said. People who don't own a personal computer can log into a friend's computer, find access in most libraries and find inexpensive "Internet cafes" while traveling abroad, he added.
MARS, the Military Affiliate Radio System, is another inexpensive method of staying in touch with families and friends, Snowden said. The service is also available from civilian MARS stations that are operated by individuals certified as MARS operators by the Amateur Radio Relay League.
Telegram messages, known as "MARS Grams," are also sent over the MARS for hand-delivery or delivery by mail.
Prepaid calling cards can be money savers, but consumers should be careful about which ones they buy, Snowden pointed out. "We encourage all consumers to read the fine details on the prepaid calling cards and ensure they're from a reputable company," he said. "It's also important to realize what the costs are. For example, if it's 30 minutes for $10, it's important to understand what the first minute cost and what hook up fees are. That way you prevent getting five minutes worth of calling and 25 minutes worth of fees associated with it."
Military exchanges offer prepaid cards in varying amounts, however, Snowden points out that service members should still compare costs. "Just because it's sold in the exchange doesn't mean it's the best rate," he said. "Some service providers give discount minutes to defense personnel on their prepaid cards. Read the card carefully for costs associated with international calls."
Snowden warns people not confuse calling cards with prepaid calling cards. "Using a calling card doesn't necessarily guarantee a low rate and rarely carries the lower rate that applies to a domestic calling plan," he explained.
The toll-free 1-800 or 1-888 numbers are good options for people in the United States who make calls to a single long distance number within the country. "Toll-free numbers often provide the lowest rate alternative for calls made to one number," Snowden said.
Cell phones are convenient, but they don't work everywhere and they can be expensive, he warns.
Callers can use the international callback service to call anywhere in the world and pay U.S. rates. "You call your U.S. service provider and they'll connect you or 'callback' with an American dial tone," Snowden said. However, he emphasized that, "This service should be researched and discussed with the service provider before leaving the United States."
Dialing collect is another option, however, Snowden advises against using it because it's so expensive. He said prepaid calling cards or a calling plan is less expensive.
Snowden said military base phone banks are another inexpensive way to stay in touch with family and friends. But the demand is so great that it can be difficult to get access.
The brochure is also being sent to armed forces family centers worldwide and military-affiliated associations and organizations. "We want to ensure that armed forces personnel and their families know the FCC is available to provide them with telecom information, help with their telecom complaints and address any of their other telecom needs," Snowden said.
The "Calling Home" campaign, which was launched this month, is slated to run for a year, but will be lengthened if needed, Snowden said. "Our goal is to get information in the hands of all service personnel and defense civilian employees to help them save money when keeping in touch with their families and friends."