I THINK it was Benjamin Disraeli who said that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics”. And it was definitely Scott Adams (the Dilbert cartoon creator) who said there are “lies, damn lies and telecoms bills!” writes Rob Johnson.
Why is that? We’ve all seen the adverts offering fantastic rates for telephone calls and signed up expecting to save huge amounts on our bills, but some how it never really seems to materialise – how can that be?
If we think back before the days of telecom competition the price of calling was astronomical, for instance, calling the USA from the UK only 10 -15 years ago was 40 pence per minute and calling to France wasn’t much cheaper. As competition became more intense, and technology improved, the cost of calling came down, but at the same time people started to use the phone a lot more, which meant that bills didn’t really drop.
Now though people’s calling patterns are pretty steady, and haven’t grown much over the past two or three years. So then if you move to a new company that is supposedly offering you better rates surely your bill will drop?
Well, you’d have thought so, but often what you see isn’t what you get with telephone bills! The offers that say “from only 1 cent per minute”, or “Free Calls” look great but if you can get to the small print you’ll see that actually this may not be as simple as you think.
There are a lot of sneaky little charges that you may not notice, the most common is the set up or connection fee. France Telecom has just moved to this.
What it means is that for every call you make, you have to add on the set up fee. So if the per minute charge is say 1 cent per minute, but the set up fee is 12 cents then the cost for the first second is 12 cents!
As soon as you connect you are charged the set up fee, and some companies charge you even if the person you are calling doesn’t answer. So if you make 100 calls in a month you would need to add on €12 just to cover the set up charge.
To make things even better, some companies even change the set up fee depending on where you are calling, 20 cents isn’t uncommon for calls to mobiles.
So how else do telecoms companies make their money? Another standard way is per minute billing. This means that the call is charged on a per minute basis, so a 1 second call would be billed at 1 minute and a 1 minute 1 second call billed at two minutes.
This is often done for very high cost destinations, such as international mobile calls, so for instance if the cost of calling a mobile is 60 cents per minute and the call takes 1 minute and 10 seconds then the cost would not be 70 cents, but €1.20.
Another clever ploy is to pay a fee and get so many minutes “free”. A popular one at the moment is to pay around €33 per month and have all your national and local calls for free. This sounds a great deal until you realise how much you need to be on the phone.
A competitive offering for National and Local calls is 3 cents per minute, with no set up charge, so to get your money’s worth you would need to spend over 1000 minutes calling national and local numbers. The normal customer calls about 400 minutes to ALL destinations.
And we haven’t even got to the free minute offers and what is peak and off peak time!!
To make the best choice can be tricky, but following these steps should help:
1) Firstly try to figure out where you make most of your calls.
2) Do you always call at the same time of day, or would you like to be able to call at anytime?
3) How would you like to pay?
4) How would you like to receive your bill?
5) (And for us folks in France - do they have customer support in English!)
Once you have figured out your call patterns you can look for the best carrier for you.
The carrier that is the best for say SFR mobile calls in France, may not be the same as the one that is best for calls to the UK. Then figure out how you want to pay, if you pay by DD or equivalent and receive your bill by email then this should keep the costs down. And finally, if your French is not too hot, look for a company that has sales and support in English.
Having done all this, have a large glass of red wine, sit back and unplug the phone – the last think you want now is to have people phoning you!!
Rob Johnson has spent the last 15 years in the telecoms industry, and lives with his family in Normandy. He currently works for TLK2.com, the telecoms company geared for the Brits in France. For information or advice email Rob on Rob.Johnson@tlk2.com or call on 0233 68 14 08.