NEW YORK - At first blush, it sounds odd: a little box you hook up to your phone so that your long-distance calls can be billed to a prepaid account.
But for hassle-free, credit card-billed, predictable rates, over any telephone company's local line in the continental United States, the Long-Distance Dialer is a breakthrough. The first product of its kind from Verizon, the dialer costs $29.99 and will be offered at retail stores nationwide by Verizon Card Services. An unlimited calling plan, purchased separately for $29.99, lets callers make as many domestic long-distance calls as they wish, no matter what local or long-distance phone company they use. A variety of other calling plans are also available. There are no calling card access dial-up numbers, passcodes or PINS to remember. Just dial and talk. Calls are automatically routed over the Verizon Select Services network, prepaid and predictable.
Dialers will be available starting this week at Target stores in the contiguous 48 states and at other major retailers in the near future.
"This is a smart, easy-to-use product, tailor-made for certain types of callers," said William M. Freeman, president of Verizon's Public Communications Group. "Heavy long-distance users can get an incredible price break. Parents can pay for their college students' long-distance calling to be sure they hear from their kids. And it's the ideal gift for the elderly and other people who are on limited budgets and who might otherwise not make long-distance calls to stay in touch with their families and friends.
"The dialer is also a great tool for small business owners, or those who work from home, who want to separately track and pay and for business calls," Freeman said. "Although the unlimited plan is just for residential use, other plans with per-minute rates as low as 3.1 cents will appeal to the business user."
Freeman pointed out that the dialer makes unlimited calling an option even for customers who have bare-bones calling plans, since there is no need to subscribe to additional call management features sometimes required by other unlimited calling plans. The dialer also will be popular with callers accustomed to using prepaid calling cards, he said.
The secret is in the box. As soon as a customer plugs it into a phone jack, it automatically obtains routing tables from a Verizon Select Services Inc. database to determine what telephone numbers and area codes constitute a long-distance or toll call when dialed from the customer's phone. Each time the customer makes a call, the box automatically routes any non-local toll or state-to-state call over the Verizon network at the price specified by the customer's prepaid calling plan.
After purchasing the box, customers then call Verizon or go online at http://prepaidlongdistance.verizon.com to select a calling plan and register their phone line. Monthly credit card billing for the unlimited plan is automatic thereafter and recurs until the customer calls to cancel the service.
The unlimited plan is designed for normal residential calling under terms associated with the plan; excessive calling or business use under the unlimited plan may result in alternate billing arrangements.
Besides the unlimited calling plan for home use, customers can select other plans ranging from $9.99 to $99.99 -- 225 minutes for $9.99, or 4.4 cents per minute; 580 minutes for $19.99, or 3.4 cents per minute; 1,500 minutes for $49.99, or 3.12 cents per minute; and 3,200 minutes for $99.99, or 3.1 cents per minute. With these plans, pre-purchased minutes must be used within six months, or else unused minutes are forfeited and the customer's credit card is not automatically recharged. However, if the prepaid account reaches zero credit, the package is automatically recharged on the credit card.
Only the telephone plugged into a box will get the Verizon rates, except if the phone is a multi-handset cordless phone. Otherwise, a box and calling plan are needed for each extension that will be used for non-local calling. The dialer can be moved to another extension on the same line with the same number, but the dialer will need to auto-program itself each time it is moved.
For DSL customers, the dialer works fine provided a line filter is placed in the jack ahead of the dialer. The Verizon Long-Distance Dialer accommodates fax machines and modems, as well.
"The prepaid dialer is a new facet of the burgeoning long-distance industry, and it's the kind of market-expanding innovation you can expect from Verizon," Freeman said.
Verizon Select Services Inc., which carries the calls under these plans, is an affiliate of Verizon Communications Inc. and provides PBX voice, data, video and converged solutions for Verizon's business customers. Additionally, Verizon Select Services Inc. provides installation, maintenance and construction of switching and network equipment.
A Fortune 10 company, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services, with approximately $67 billion in revenues and 221,000 employees. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 137.6 million access line equivalents and 34.6 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is the third largest long-distance carrier for U.S. consumers, with 14.6 million long-distance lines. The company is also the largest directory publisher in the world, as measured by directory titles and circulation. Verizon's international presence includes wireline and wireless communications operations and investments, primarily in the Americas and Europe. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.