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SERVICES 
Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 13:54 GMT
Greater choice for phone users
Elderly lady on the telephone
Save money phoning friends and relations abroad
test hello test
By Sarah Toyne
BBC News Online personal finance reporter
line
It will now be easier for people to get access to a wide variety of telephone companies and cheap phone calls, following a recent announcement by the Telecoms Watchdog Oftel.


It will bring benefits to consumers in terms of further choice and lower call charges

David Edmonds, director general of Oftel

From 12 December, consumers will find it easier to select different "carriers" for their telephone calls, with no need to change their current telephone line or number.

For a number of years, it has been possible to make calls using different telephone companies, either by dialling a short code, a free phone number or through an adaptor plug.

But now consumers can "pre-select" a range of different telephone companies, without the hassle of calling a special number or fitting an auto dialler box.

David Edmonds, director general of Oftel says: "It will bring benefits to consumers in terms of further choice and lower call charges."

How does it work?

Instead, the local exchange will now recognise the type of call.

For example, if you are phoning locally - you will be billed for that call by the carrier you have selected to carry your local calls.

The service is called "carrier pre-selection" or CPS for short, and was originally launched last year to cover national and international calls.

The difference now is that the service has been extended to include local calls, calls to mobile phones, local rate and free phone numbers, premium rate and paging numbers.

What to ask?
How much will different call types cost?
Discounts or different prices for different times of the day or week?
Per second or per minute billing?
How often are bills produced?
Are there any connection or disconnection fees?
How long will the contract last?
Any penalties for ending the contract?
What if I get into trouble with paying my bills?
What services will I gain or lose by changing?
When and how can I contact customer services and are these calls free?
Source: Oftel

If you sign up for one of these services you will still pay for your line rental with BT, but your calls are charged to the carriers of your choice.

You can choose as many carriers as you wish to maximise the chances of saving money.

For example, you could choose a different provider for national calls to one you use for international calls.

The new service means that you will be able to "pre-select" these carriers - your calls will automatically switch to the carrier of your choice, as the telephone exchange will automatically recognise the type of call and carrier.

And save?

The amount you will save depends on your existing provider, whether BT or a cable service - and who you choose to carry your calls.

The biggest savings are likely to be on international calls.

For example, telephoning America during the day time will cost you 24p standard rate with BT, but it could cost you as low as 3.5p a minute during the day through CPS.

Even if you had signed up to BT's Together package and Friends & Family service, this call would still cost 13p a minute.

Before you sign up to a service, Oftel recommends people to ask a series of questions to the new company (see above).

You may be wondering how the companies can offer such cheap calls.

It is because the services primarily buy spare airtime that is not being used by other carriers.

One drawback to the service is that you may not get through at peak times, because there is no extra capacity for the telephone companies to purchase.

However, the telephone carriers say that this is becoming less of a problem than a few years ago.

How can I subscribe?

Cable TV and mobile phone companies are not compelled to offer CPS to their customers.

Oftel suggest that if you are thinking of switching from BT, people should check to see if the new supplier offers CPS.

BT will still own your phone line and send you bills for line rental - and your phone number will not change.

Instead, you will be billed separately by each different carrier that you use.

The service you want to choose may not yet have CPS and you may need to dial an access code, or fit an auto dialler.

These auto diallers are usually free, and signing up to one of these services should not exclude you from joining other services.

Check with the company.

Further information:

Oftel has a useful guide to CPS on its website (see right).

It also has a list of operators that currently offer CPS and a helpline 0845 7145000 (local rate).

You can compare telephone prices from a number of telephone companies at Phonebills.org, a website, which is endorsed by Oftel.

You can check to see how call carriers compare with British Telecom, as there is comprehensive price information on BT's website.

Telecoms Advice is a government backed website which offers help for small businesses.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Business
Picking the right mobile phone
12 Dec 01 | Business
Hoping for lower mobile bills?
22 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
The future of phones
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