Penny Saved, CLEC Earned

While attending this year’s SNUG meeting, there was an interesting panel discussion on competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC). The panel members were from all over the U.S. and they had nothing but good things to say about their experience with CLECs. We thought that you, our readers, would like to find out how you could save money on your phone bill. Here are their comments.

Have you interviewed your local exchange carrier (LEC) or competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC)? Thinking of upgrading your facilities? It is suggested that you meet with their management and engineering team and ask the following questions:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. Are you a public, or private entity?
  3. Where are you traded?
  4. Are you a licensed CLEC and therefore held to the rigorous standards set forth by the FCC for 911 access, etc.?
  5. Are you a facilities based provider, or are you a reseller?
  6. If facilities based, what type of central office switching system do you employ?
  7. What geographic territory do you currently cover? What are your expansion plans?
  8. What products do you offer? Do you provide both local and long distance services? Please provide detailed product descriptions.
  9. Do you provide ISDN functionality? PRIs? BRIs?
  10. 1Can you provide caller ID/ANI on any other product?
  11. Please outline your fees and limitations, where applicable, on your DID service.
  12. Is there an option for Internet access on your T-1 product?
  13. If so, who provides the router?
  14. Have you provided service to an answering service, enhanced messaging center, or like business before?
  15. Do you provide fractional T-1 service (less than 24 channels assigned), or only full DS-1 level (24 channels allocated)?
  16. Do you provide any Centrex/Centrenet like features (i.e. trunk to trunk transfer, call forward, etc.)?
  17. Are you a 24×7 operation?
  18. Is the service center local, or an 800 number or more?
  19. If both, please specify the specific points of contact:
  20. What type of back up and redundancy do you provide?
  21. Can I obtain alternate CO routing for diversity?
  22. Please outline the steps of an order through the provisioning of service.
  23. Do you offer service through remote call forwarding (RCF), or are you in a local number portability area (LNP)?
  24. Will I be able to keep all my old numbers?
  25. Can you provide Web hosting, or SOHO functions?
  26. What type of billing platforms do you offer?
  27. If long distance is offered, what is your per minute breakdown for each type of call and what is your billing increment/minimum?
  28. What special promotions are available?
  29. Do you provide a channel bank when necessary and is there an extra cost?
  30. Who services the channel bank? Can I provide my own?
  31. What local exchanges do you provide access to for my T-1s? These will provide local access for my customers to call my service with no additional charge. What charges are there for me to consider?

Please provide a comprehensive escalation chart with names of all management and officers of your company and their numbers. What other items about your services should I be aware of? Please elaborate.

Provided to Connections Magazine by Maryann Wetmore, president of NAEO, Network One Communications, Inc. (networkone@aol.com) in collaboration with e.spire Communications.


 

CLEC – “Companies Limiting Expense Competitively”

Over the past 20 years, I have learned all kinds of jargon for dealing with the telephone company and communications vendors. There is the POTS (I had thought POTS were for cooking meat and potatoes); the DIDs and now the PRI.

Every abbreviation that I learned lead me to more abbreviations including the CLEC. Industry leaders tell me that CLEC stands for “competitive local exchange carrier”. I think we should look at them as “companies limiting expenses competitively”.

Less than one year ago, I had a gregarious young man be-bop into my office and tell me he wanted to pick my brain about the answering service industry. He admitted knowing very little about TAS, but he thought he had a product to save money.

His timing was perfect. I had been going through a hard time with Bell representatives and getting nowhere because they kept telling me that digital and ISDN PRI would cost more than my existing DIDs and POTS lines. What did they mean? Friends at SNUG and ATSI kept saying “digital is the way to go,” and that thousands of dollars would be saved in a short period of time with improved line quality. Well, I thought I was going to teach this young man a thing or two and that he was “all wet” because Bell Atlantic had to be the company with all the equipment, knowledge and answers. Boy oh boy, was I wrong. The young man represented a CLEC (Adelphia) and simply asked for my Bell records and how much I spent per month on telephone service exclusive of Yellow Pages. He commented that he was sure that at least 20% could be whacked from the monthly figures. Well, I was not a math major, but it didn’t take long for me to figure that at least $1,000 could be saved real quick each and every month. So, I said “Here’s the information. Make me a deal.”

He did; and by August, 1999 my billing was converted to Adelphia and savings greater than 20% became a reality.

My conversion to the CLEC (Adelphia) was simply a matter of converting billing with plans to cut over to Adelphia’s network when it is completed in Baltimore. Adelphia became my choice because of its existing and planned network throughout the United States.

If you have not investigated the CLEC market, do so; however, proceed with caution. Remember the long distance companies that were going to save us tons of money!!! Some did, but where are most of them today? Check out the CLECs in your area. Although Adelphia is right for me, it might not be right for you. Make sure you get connected to a CLEC (Company Limiting Expense Competitively).

Submitted by Pat Scott, A Better Answer, Bel Air, MD


 

CLEC Case Study

By Randy Harmat

In 1998 Ansafone began to investigate alternative dial tone providers due to the high cost of services from Pacific Bell.

In 1996 we had installed several local T-1s, but they were not PRI-ISDN circuits which did not provide caller ID and faster call connectivity. I approached my Pacific Bell sales representative and they told me I would have to pay huge re-installation fees to convert to ISDN circuits. The first company we installed a circuit from was Nextlink. During our negotiations, they agreed to install the circuit on a 30-day beta trail agreement so that I could see how reliable the ISDN would be. In addition, Nextlink installed 20 DIDs for testing purposes. During the beta period, the circuit went down a few times, so I cancelled our agreement.

Our current dial tone provider is ICG Telecom. ICG offered an expanded local area eliminating our foreign exchange trunks for our surrounding areas. As an example, we were paying over $500 for four DID trunks from a LATA surrounding area. ICG was able to cover that area as part of their local calling area for no charge! Ansafone was paying almost $800 per T-1 circuit from Pacific Bell and now we are only paying about $500 per PRI-ISDN from ICG with an expanded calling area. In addition, ICG doesn’t charge for interstate tax which was an additional $256 per T-1.

The only reason it was possible to leave Pacific Bell was local number portability (LNP). This newly offered service allowed Ansafone to retain all our telephone numbers and transfer them to whatever carrier we chose. It is the same concept as owning your 800 toll-free numbers and having the choice of your carrier.

The main benefit from going to 100% digital circuits is the consolidation of trunks and higher utilization of facilities. Before our change in 1996 we had 42 DID trunks and 39 local dial out lines for our various needs (admin lines, faxes, modems, etc.). When we converted to T-1 lines the cost savings was astonishing due to the consolidation. Additions to our Startel digital switch were necessary to accommodate all calls routing through the switch, but all the changes and reconfiguration has been well worth it. Then when we changed to ICG, the cost savings was even greater with the lower cost and less taxation. A total win-win situation.

I am a firm believer in alternative dial tone providers. Another huge concern was service. I have not had any bad experiences with ICG that I did not have with Pacific Bell. Overall with all the changes many of the bell companies are making, I would say the service is about equal.

Submitted by Randy Harmat, Ansafone, Santa Ana, CA.


 

Shop around for a CLEC

By Mark Hastings

Look in the Yellow Pages for providers in your area. Visit their facilities; they should be proud to show it off to you. More importantly, you can see for yourself if they’ve put in the capital investment for your telephone service to be up 100% of the time. I’d be suspicious of any that would make excuses for not letting you visit; they may be just resellers.

Carefully think about everything you are doing now with your present local and long distance phone companies (or would like to do) and make a list. Can they provide two-way DID? Can long-distance calls require a project code? Can my phone bill arrive at my office just before we do billing so that any charges we must pass on to our customers can be added to their bill?

For each feature, ask if it is included with the basic charge or is their an additional charge. Is there any additional equipment required and will they provide it?

Get everything agreed to in writing. We had a problem when my recollection was that their sales person had told me that long distance project codes would be no problem, but after the lines were installed and cut over, they said that they couldn’t do project codes. I had no proof that the sales person ever told me that project codes would be no problem. So the moral is, even if there is no charge involved, get it in writing.

Submitted by Mark Hastings, Hastings Communications, Austin, TX.


 

Focal Communications

By John Yocca

Having no idea of the types of services they offer, I engaged in a casual conversation with one of their sales representatives. It didn’t take too long for me to realize how their ISDN PRI Multi Exchange (MX) product would better suit our company than our current arrangement with Pacific Bell.

At that time, we were using Pac Bell foreign exchange trunks as well as 800 numbers to bring intra LATA calls into our switch. Now, we pay Focal a flat fee for each PRI circuit and we can issue local numbers to our “non-local”, Southern California clients. Since installing the PRI circuits we have disconnected all of our Pac Bell DID trunks and have reduced the number of clients using toll free numbers by 90%. Using Focal saves our company $1,500 to $2,000 monthly. Additionally, we are now better positioned to market our services throughout Southern California.

We’ve also hooked up with another CLEC, MGC Communications of Las Vegas, NV. We use MGC strictly for local out dial. They offer a “Three for Free” calling plan that allows us to pay just a $3 monthly surcharge (per line) for unlimited, free calling within a 16-mile radius. With all of the paging and faxing we do within 16 miles, this feature saves us approximately $500 monthly. We use Startel’s least cost routing feature to automatically use MGC lines for all outbound calls within 16 miles and Focal lines for all other calls.

My major concern with using a CLEC was both reliability as well as substandard customer service. We have been with both companies since November and have had no problems whatsoever. There have been no outages of any kind. Additionally, when I call for billing or technical questions, the service and response time beat Pacific Bell any day.

Submitted by John Yocca, Central Communications, Riverside, CA.


 

CLEC Case Study – part 2

by Chris Bell

MedCom runs on a Startel 5700. We had reached the point where we wanted to continue upgrading our facilities so that we could obtain the benefits of actually using a digital switch. As things stood, we had a digital switch that used analog DID trunks. In addition, MedCom is relatively far (about 15,000 feet) from our central office (CO). The copper DID trunks we had were generally rock solid and reliable, but we had a persistent sixty-cycle “hum” on them. This impacted our overall quality, and our ability to hear callers. In addition, we serve many clients who use PBXs and transfer their calls to us versus using call forwarding. Prior to conversion, some clients would flat out refuse patches due to the poor sound quality. Since we heavily employ call directors, call screens, and personal auto answer (PAAs), we wanted to be digital “all the way in and across” both the Startel 5700 and our Startel VoiceNet.

Adelphia Communications, who in our area trades under the name Peco Hyperion, did a significant amount of research on our configuration. They pointed out from the outset that it was strongly advisable from an economic standpoint that we leave our Feature Group ‘A’ circuits in place; thus we would remain analog for our out dialing. This was mainly due to the unbeatable low rates we had on those Feature Group lines. Adelphia did all of the leg work with Bell Atlantic. They were able to get the attention of Bell Atlantic for us and get them to bring fiber optic cable into our building. I suspect that Bell Atlantic had other plans for using the copper trunk lines that we would be shedding.

Adelphia proposed that we install one ISDN-PRI circuit, (which is 23 inbound digital trunks in three separate trunk groups), and that we also install a fractional T-1, with six (6) trunks as a backup. In essence, they were proposing that we change from 15 DIDs to 29, giving us almost twice the capacity. At first I thought this was excessive. In hindsight, having an extra trunk group “in the bank” was perfect for us, as it provided the capacity we would need to complete two unexpected telephone answering service (TAS) acquisitions. Adelphia, as with most CLECs, paid for all installation costs, including the common equipment such as the channel bank, network rack, and battery backup on our de-marc.

The conversion was necessarily a slow one, but it was well organized. The first step was to get the Startel switch ready. This required that we change the top drawer of the 5700 out to a “digital bank.” We used Startel for this end of the project. Once our switch was ready, we started with a small group of un-used DIDs on our small trunk group. We tested those lines for about a month or so. From the outset, the lines worked perfectly. The cut of all remaining DIDs, which occurred about five weeks later, also went very well. We saw immediate results. Once we had all of our lines cut to the ISDN, our staff and our clients were audibly impressed. First and foremost, our operators were impressed with the sound quality of every call. There was no more background hum. That old answering service “Startel” ring was replaced with a true sounding ring. I had several long term operators who, for literally the first time in 13 years, had the need to turn down the volume on incoming calls! During all of the previous years of operation, their Startel Op/Con boxes had volume control settings that were turned up to max. We no longer had to call the caller back because we could not hear them. In addition, we were picking up ANI about 85% of the time. Our clients were also impressed with how well we sounded. Even our patched calls sound better and are easier to hear. Our telco line costs are now about 25% lower than when we had standard analog DID trunk lines. Finally, because we are completely digital, our VoiceNet system and our unique client recordings sound perfect all the way through our system.

Obviously, there is a risk, or trade-off to be made in converting to ISDN. If the ISDN is down, you get no calls, period. It is not like when one of your old analog trunks is down, where you would simply call special services at the phone company and have the circuit turned up. Thus, you do need to have a well thought out backup plan in place to either transfer the lines or divert them to some type of telco facilities that will put you back into business. This is why we have a separate T-1 and channel bank that houses our backup facilities. Ask your CLEC about what kind of commitment they can give to regarding response time in the event of an outage, and what level of priority your account will be assigned.

We are very pleased with our ISDN-PRI service. It is not only providing superior sound quality, but it is also giving us enhanced features such as ANI. Better yet, the ISDN is clearly about 25% lower cost. The increased capacity of the 23 trunk ISDN has enabled MedCom to be in a position to take advantage of additional business opportunities. Prior to having ISDN, we had undertaken one small acquisition in the prior twelve years of operation. By having ISDN lines, we have been in a position to acquire and successfully integrate two TASs, comprising over 125 clients, in a little over two months!

Submitted by Christopher R. Bell, Medcom Professional Services, Inc., Levittown, PA.

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