Making your phone calls over the Internet can save you money. At the moment only about 150-thousand people do it, but Consumer Reports expects that number to jump significantly as more and more companies get into the business, including AT&T, Cox Communications, Qwest and Time Warner Cable.
Every afternoon at 4:30 Isabelle Weinberg uses her computer's Internet connection to call her daughter, Sandy, in Holland.
"Hi dear, hon. How you doing?"
No matter how long they talk, their call doesn't cost a dime. They use a program they downloaded free from the Internet, called MSN Messenger.
With this system, both parties have to be logged onto the same program at the same time.
Consumer Reports' David Heim looked at another type of Internet phone service that lets you call on your regular phone to anyone, anywhere.
"This kind of service isn't free, but the rates are lower than a regular phone."
It costs about 40 dollars a month for unlimited local and long distance calls in North America.
With the service Consumer Reports tested, you plug your phone and high-speed Internet connection into an adapter. This particular system is from a company called Vonage.
"This adapter routes your call over the Internet as a piece of data, not as voice. At the other end of the call, it goes back into the local phone system. So the person you're calling just needs an ordinary phone."
Internet phone service has some drawbacks. It won't work during a power outage. And if you have an emergency, the 911 operator may not be able to pinpoint your location.
And even with a free service like the Weinberg's you need a
high-speed Internet connection. That will run you about 40 dollars a month.
One of the reasons Internet phone service costs less is it's not regulated the way regular telephones are. That may change, but for now you don't have to pay all the surcharges and taxes that you have to pay with a regular phone bill.