There was a time when we’d worry about the cost of this long distance call. Now, who cares?
Let me show my age for a second. When I was growing up prices for long distance calls varied depending on the time of day.
Daytime rates were outrageous. Evenings were cheaper. Late night, calls after 11:00 PM, were cheaper still.
Phone companies offered person-to-person and collect calls. They existed to shield you from paying dearly for calls that didn’t quite work out. Do those services even exist today (other than for calls made by prisoners)?
When I was growing up there was only one way to make a long distance call–AT&T. Starting in the late seventies new long distance companies like Sprint¹ and MCI arrived. By dialing a code or later switching your provider entirely you could put your long distance bill on a diet.
Steadily year-by-year the cost of long distance calls have come down. For the last few decades people have been predicting the end of billing individual phone calls entirely. It’s not here officially, but for me and I suppose many of you it’s the practical reality.
I buy a cell package for my family. We share 1,400 minutes per month. On top of that all mobile-to-mobile calls are ‘free’ as are calls to my ten number “A-list.” Calls after 9:00 PM or on the weekend don’t count either.
Better than halfway through our current billing cycle we’ve used 194 of our 1,400 minutes. At the same time we’ve used nearly 1,800 minutes where the meter’s not running!
If it made sense I could cut my minutes even farther. With Google Voice’s “Click2Call” I can make outgoing calls which look like incoming calls from one of my “A-list” numbers. Practically speaking that means unlimited unmetered calls!
No wonder we have 6,002 rollover minutes available!
My cell provider at&t isn’t stupid. If I tried to cut my bucket of minutes below the allotted 1,400 I’d lose a bunch off those otherwise “free” call programs.
Basically I have flat rate service and both at&t and I know it! It’s just neither of us is saying it aloud.
The downward pressure on phone rates isn’t over yet. My call to Peter was made via Skype. It was free.
The video call was about as effortless as can be. If there’s lag I didn’t feel it. Beyond that Skype has figured out how to cancel the echoes and other disturbances that come when both Peter and I use microphones and speakers (as opposed to somewhat sound isolating handsets). And though I made the call on my desktop PC I’ve got Skype on my cell too!
Skype is good, but it’s not the end of this technology shift. There are and will be more methods of moving voice and video over IP networks instead of the switched long distance we’ve all been using. The one thing I’ll guarantee is none will have an incremental cost.
Sometime within the next few years we’ll start paying for a data bucket on our phones. Use that data any way you want; no more billing for calls. That would allow the telcos to get back in the business of making a little cash on individual phone calls.
We’re going to have to start thinking differently about how communications works and how we buy it. If you buy smart you’ll surely save.
¹ – Sprint actually began as part of a railroad! Southern Pacific Railroad had excess microwave and later fiber capacity from the lines it ran along its right-of-way. That’s how they routed calls in competition with AT&T. Sprint actually stood for “Southern Pacific Railroad Intelligent Network of Telecommunications.”