By Christopher Stern Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page F01
Last November Andy Abramson of San Diego took his new Internet phone along on a two-week business trip to Europe. He spent 18 hours calling friends and clients in Canada, Italy, France and the United States, an international dialing spree that would normally have set him back hundreds of dollars.
But all that talking cost him just $13.
For William H. Ashton, who supervises the municipal phone system for the Town of Herndon, the town's new Internet phone network has made work a lot easier.
Ashton used to dread requests to move a phone or add a line. The process took several days to complete, including a visit by an outside contractor who spent hours rearranging telephone wires in a closet. Each visit cost the town $400 or more. "I was in the business of saying no," Ashton said.
Since last year when the new system was installed, Ashton has managed the entire phone network from his desktop computer. He can add lines with the click of a mouse. When town employees move to a new office, they just unplug their phones and carry them to their new desks. Their phone calls follow automatically.
Daniel Sternoff of New York canceled his Verizon basic home phone service earlier this year after signing up with a broadband phone company in January. There was a frustrating two-month period at the beginning involving the transfer of his former phone number to his new account. But Sternoff made the jump because he had backup.
"I got rid of my [Verizon] line because I have cell phones. Dealing with some quirks is worth it," he said.
Sternoff's wife often calls her family in Israel, and he estimates that he has cut his monthly phone bill from $150 or $200 to $50 or $75.
Abramson and Sternoff and the Town of Herndon are not just saving money, they are also at the cutting edge of the biggest change in telephone technology since government-sanctioned monopolies knitted the nation together decades ago with copper wire.
Jeff Pulver is an Internet phone pioneer who has watched Internet telephone services grow from a niche for computer geeks into a technology that is being embraced by some of the biggest names in the industry. "Today people look at it almost as a fashion statement, but the reality is that the fundamental shift to [Internet]-based telecommunications will change the face of telecommunications forever," he said.