How to avoid per-minute charges on calls to access the Internet and increase your modem speed.
When it comes to your phone service, we know you have many questions. The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) will give you plain talk about your telephone service.
The Public Service Commission of South Carolina does not regulate the Internet, nor Internet Service Providers. The PSC does have jurisdiction over the telephone lines and telephone services used to reach your Internet service provider. The ORS represents the public interest in utility regulation.
The Internet is a vast, interconnected web of computers. Most personal computers and telephone customers connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) which provides the connection to the Internet. Customers can connect to their ISP either by using their voice telephone lines and a modem, or by using more advanced services.
Beware of per minute charges on calls to your ISP
The ORS Consumer Services Division has received complaints from consumers with telephone bills in the hundreds of dollars...just for accessing the Internet. There is little that can be done after the fact, so consumers need to be careful. Remember, when you access the Internet you are also placing a telephone call. Be sure you know how you will be charged for the call.
There are a few ways that consumers can inadvertently place a call that generates per-minute charges when calling to access the Internet.
You can’t tell by the phone number
You may be incurring per-minute charges even if you do not dial "1" before the telephone number with Area Calling Plan (ACP) calls to a neighboring exchange. In an effort to promote equality of local calling areas, EAS was authorized by the PSC in 1993 and only affects calling that was previously considered long-distance calling to exchanges that are either adjacent to or within 15 miles of the caller's exchange. EAS rates vary per minute, depending on the company. Because you don't have to dial "1" before a telephone number when placing an ACP call, some consumers may think they are accessing the Internet through a local call; they may actually be running up large phone bills.
- Software that dials automatically
Some Internet providers will give customers software to install on their computers with automatic dialing capability. The telephone number the computer automatically dials may result in EAS or long distance calls. Check your system.
- "Free" Internet service offers
Be careful of "free" Internet service offers. There will always be charges for the telephone connection to access the service, these may be EAS or long distance calls. An Internet provider may not have the correct information on whether or not a telephone number for a customer in a specific area would be priced at per-minute rates.
- Different calling areas
New competitive local telephone companies may not have the same local calling area. Check with your company. If the customer's Internet provider subscribes to a company with a different calling area, the customer may run the risk of inadvertently placing a toll call when accessing the Internet.
Here are some tips on what consumers can do to avoid being charged per minute when accessing the Internet
- Be careful. Ask questions.
- Before signing up for service to access the Internet, ask the prospective Internet provider whether or not the numbers you would be dialing through your computer incur per-minute charges.
- Verify this information with your local telephone company by either looking in your telephone book or calling a customer service representative (not the long distance operator). Look over your monthly telephone bill carefully to make sure you are not being charged per-minute rates when accessing the Internet.
What to do if your modem is not connecting at its rated speed
Modems allow computers to communicate over standard phone lines. Modems have a maximum rated speed. They can also connect at lower speeds, if faster speeds result in too many errors. If your modem consistently connects at a lower speed than that listed on the box, this could be due to a number of factors:
- Your hardware and software settings
Make sure that the dip switches and other settings are set correctly. Likewise, make sure that the dialer program is not set for a low data transmission speed. Information on how to do this can usually be found in your modem manufacturer’s and/or ISP's frequently asked questions (FAQ) web pages.
- The wiring inside your house
The wiring inside your house may affect modem speed. Make sure all connections to wall jacks throughout the house are tight. Try disconnecting other phones and answering machines, especially inexpensive ones. Make sure your phone cords do not run too close to fluorescent lights or TV sets.
- Your telephone line
If the problem is not in your modem's configuration or inside wiring, it may be in the lines connecting to your local phone company. Your local telephone company can check your line, and may be able to give you some improvement.
- The telephone network
Occasionally, a problem may be caused by parts of the telephone network other than your local line. Fortunately, these problems are fairly rare, such as busy trunks or overloaded switches. If all trunks are busy, you will hear a "fast busy" signal or a recorded announcement asking you to try your call later.
Your Internet service provider (ISP)
Once the call reaches your ISP, the call must connect to one of the ISP's modems, which connects you to the Internet, email, or other service. If you get a normal busy signal when calling the ISP, it indicates that all of the ISP's lines are in use. If you get a connection, but no modem response, it probably indicates that all of the ISP's modems are in use. These are not telephone company problems - they indicate that the ISP is receiving too many calls at that time.
- The Internet itself
Once you have connected to your ISP, your speed is dependent on the slowest part of the connection. That might be your phone line, but could equally likely be the Internet itself, or the server supplying information on the other end. Some websites may have slow servers or become congested due to the number of people accessing them. No matter how good your connection, you cannot receive data until it is sent out by the server.
Alternatives to basic phone lines for data transmission
If modems do not meet your data transmission needs, there are several alternative services to consider. These services may be expensive however, and are not available in all areas. The services include:
ISDN (integrated services digital network) service is widely available, and many ISPs will allow connection via ISDN. ISDN provides 2 channels, each running at 64kbps, which can be combined to provide 128kbps data transmission. Costs for ISDN vary. ISDN modems are available at many computer stores and on-line. Installation and configuration of ISDN modems is relatively easy, comparable to adding other internal PC cards.
The term xDSL stands for any type of digital subscriber line. The most common is ADSL, or asynchronous digital subscriber line. ADSL comes in a variety of speeds, ranging from about 280 kbps up to 8 Mbps (million bits per second). ADSL is a relatively new service, and specifications, pricing, and availability are still in flux. Special equipment is needed, but is often supplied by the ADSL provider. Some ISPs not only support ADSL, they will also handle ordering and installing ADSL lines for their customers, where the service is available.
- Cable modems
Cable modems are a data transmission service designed to run over advanced cable TV systems. Cable modems are fast, up to 30 Mbps, but the bandwidth is shared. This means that large numbers of simultaneous users can cause slower speeds. Contact your local cable TV provider to find out if this service is available.
- Satellite Internet services
Some satellite dish providers also offer high-speed data transmission via a dish. Such dishes do allow users to download information from the Internet at several hundred bits per second, but do not allow uploads. Customers must still use a standard modem to up-load information, including email, documents, and the mouse clicks used to navigate the Internet.
- Dedicated higher speed data lines
These lines are generally available and provide high-speed access, but are expensive - generally costing several hundred to several thousand dollars up front, plus fees of a few hundred dollars per month, and require specialized equipment.
WebTV uses a standard modem, which is built into the WebTV box. In that respect, WebTV transmission has the same characteristics as other modems.
Internet Voice Communication
Internet Voice Communication allows you to talk over the Internet with no long distance charges. You do have to pay the cost to be connected to the Internet and any long distance or extended community calling charges to reach your Internet service provider. If you have a microphone, speakers and sound hardware, you can talk to other people through the Internet. But some websites that offer this service have different computer system requirements. You may need to upgrade your computer to get started.