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Consumer Corner

The cost for wireless service continues to move downward in markets where there is real competition not just a mere duopoly. In 1997, Atlanta gained two new competitors to BellSouth Mobility and AirTouch: AT&T and PowerTel, both of which offer PCS.

NextTel and Southern Link offer new technology.

The result of this relatively new competition: (1) rate plans offered by the traditional providers include more "free" minutes than previously; (2) the newcomers do not require a contract.

According to Clark Howard, consumer advocate and afternoon drive host on WSB-AM 750, Atlanta, the trend is toward unlimited wireless, or at least wireless service that includes so many minutes that the cost is similar to a regular wired phone. Eventually, we may not need that wired phone anymore! In sum, the benefits of competition are threefold: innovation, better products, better pricing.

Offers have been coming in our mailbox from different long-distance companies that offer low prices, around a dime per minute, for long-distance service. These so-called dial-arounds are not the deal they're made out to be. For example, Clark Howard mentioned one of them that charges a $5 monthly fee and a 3-minute per-call minimum. For a residential customer that does $10 per month of long-distance, the true cost is 15 cents per minute and that doesn't even take into account the extra amount of money charged for short-duration calls.

We looked at another offer that highlighted an interstate rate of 12 cents per minute from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 cents per minute at all other times. This company's peak and off-peak rate for Georgia is 14.5 cents per minute and 9.5 cents per minute, respectively. For the typical residential consumer who makes no long-distance calls during business hours, these rates seem excellent: 10 cents per minute interstate and 9.5 cents per minute intrastate. However, we found the catch: there is a 10 per-call fee!

Another one we looked at charges 15 cents per minute peak and 10 cents per minute off-peak, with no monthly fee. This is one that finally impressed us. Obviously, we can offer lower prices than that. However, this service is great for those people who share a line with someone else or otherwise cannot switch their phone service, or have not chosen a long-distance carrier. With this type of dialaround service, you can avoid the ripoff "casual calling" surcharges now assessed by all of the major long-distance carriers until you find the long-distance service that is best for you.

Fact: Atlanta has the highest percentage of wireless customers in the USA.

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