Net-Based Phone Services Can Save Subscribers Money, but They Have Flaws

Warren C. Duthie's monthly bill for calls to Brazil went from $80 to $10.
Warren C. Duthie's monthly bill for calls to Brazil went from $80 to $10. (By Dennis Drenner For The Washington Post)
By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

Warren C. Duthie, who over the years dabbled in selling long-distance phone service, thinks he has finally found the best deal in his Internet-based phone.

Duthie, a retired Coast Guard officer who lives in Woodbridge, hooked an Internet phone up to his cable-modem line in September, and now pays a fraction of what he used to for local and long-distance calls. "I'm kind of a fanatic," said Duthie, who got his daughter, son and neighbor to sign up with Lingo, a service sold by Primus Telecommunications Inc. in McLean. For $20 a month, they get unlimited domestic calling, he said, which used to run him $60 a month with Verizon Communications Inc. Another advantage: "There are not a whole bunch of added-on taxes and other stuff," he said.

Duthie is part of a small but growing number of callers who are using the Internet to get around the traditional phone system. Cable companies, Primus and start-ups such as Vonage Holdings Inc. are championing the service as a cheaper alternative for calling.

The phone isn't without its flaws, Duthie says. Initially, there were some glitches in the system, and occasional power outages and cable network outages shut down his Internet phone.

When his Internet phone couldn't connect to a toll-free 800 number, he had to contact Lingo to correct the problem. And he said he had to make sure his home alarm system could still alert him if he converted his traditional phone line to the new Internet-based system. He also called to make sure that 911 emergency calls made from his new Internet phone would be routed through to his local public safety calling center, and it would know where he was calling from.

"If you recognize that it's a new technology and you recognize that there will be new problems, then it's okay," Duthie said of his phone.

Frequent calls to his wife's native Brazil used to cost 45 cents a minute, which during an average month amounted to an $80 bill. Now, for $10 a month, Lingo allowed Duthie to sign up for a Brazilian phone number, which means relatives there can dial a local phone number and call him over the Internet at no additional charge. "Now we get no less than two to three calls a day," he said.

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