Notes On Consumer Affairs
Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Advances in telecommunications over the past decade have made it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Telephone service has become an integral part our lives. Some consumers, particularly recent graduates and young professionals, are foregoing traditional landline telephone services and relying entirely on their wireless telephone service for voice communications.
Most consumers, however, still use a "wired" or home-based telephone service in addition to their wireless service. Others choose to maintain a traditional landline in case of emergency.
Consumers shopping for wired telephone service should consider several factors and familiarize themselves with the advantages and disadvantages of two new options: voice over internet protocol service and digital telephone service.
Voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet. VoIP calls can be made using a computer, a special VoIP phone or a traditional telephone handset with an adapter. VoIP plans are competitively priced, and many plans offer free long distance.
There are two limitations of VoIP service that consumers should keep in mind when considering internet telephony over traditional landline service. In some cases, VoIP services lack Enhanced 911 (E911) functionality. E911 systems automatically transmit a caller's number and location information to emergency service personnel. Be sure to ask VoIP providers whether you will be able to take advantage of the advanced functions of E911. Consumers should also be aware that, in the event of a power outage, VoIP phones without a backup power supply may not work. Be sure to ask the provider if a backup power device is sold or provided with the service.
You may have noticed that some cable television providers in New York now offer digital telephone service.
Digital telephone services use the same internet technology as VoIP service, but, unlike VoIP, digital service is managed over a private network.
In addition, according to the New York State Consumer Protection Board, all of the digital telephone services currently available to New York consumers provide E911 service. As with VoIP service, if you're considering digital telephone service, ask the provider if a backup power device is sold or provided in case the power goes out. Lastly, it is important to remember that digital telephone and VoIP service providers are not subject to the same government regulations and standards as traditional landline providers. Consumers should ask providers about how they handle billing disputes, repairs and service outages before signing up for service.
Before entering into any contract for consumer services it is important to assess your needs. How much do you want to pay for telephone service? Who are you calling most often? Are most of your calls local or long distance? At what time during the day do you call most often? Do you want special features or services, such as call waiting, Caller ID and voicemail? Once you have made these determinations, try to find the service or service plan that best fits your needs and budget.
For more information on telephone services, you may want to visit the Consumer Protection Board's consumer publications website at: http:// www.consumer.state.ny.us/publications.htm , and click on "Telephone Services." You may also want to visit the New York State Public Service Commission's Consumer Website at: http://www.askpsc.com/ for more information on shopping for telephone services.