Saturday, February 26, 1994
UNKNOWN, Page 19, Edition(s) 2
By Joshua Shapiro, International Herald Tribune
Phone Bills: Outwitting Larcenous Hotels
By Joshua Shapiro
International Herald Tribune
AFTER making sure that all passport, visas, and shots are up-to-date, the next task on the preparation checklist for an overseas traveler ought to be enrolling in the Kallback Direct service offered by International Telecom Ltd., a young American company based in Seattle.
This service allows travelers to make phone calls that are unburdened by any surcharges from hotels or phone companies. Callers get dependable, high- quality digital service at a rate typically less than half the cost of "home direct" methods. High-tech travelers can use this method with computer modems and portable fax equipment.
Thank mainly the hotels for generating an unlikely new export industry in American phone services. Frequent travelers find that the more comfortable the room accommodations, the more egregious the charges on checkout. After banquet services and laundry fees, most hotels have found a sizable profit center in the surcharges and inflated usage tolls they apply to guest calls.
A hotel typically adds a fixed fee to make any outside call and then adds a shift premium over normal phone-company tariffs. For several years AT&T tried hard to curb excesses. It ultimately failed in its campaign to persuade hotels to moderate and publicize these charges, leaving the traveler on his own.
In addition to hotel costs, calls in some countries are subject to the vagaries of the local phone companies that may not begin to provide convenient, reliable or inexpensive overseas service. Remember the rule of thumb for calling from underdeveloped countries: The more inept the service, the higher the rates. From a caller's perspective, for example, Russia is now an underdeveloped country.
The phone system in the United States is typically cheaper than others. Entrepreneurs at International Telecom, who provide Kallback Direct, have figured out a way to profit from the seeming limitless greed and incompetence of hoteliers and phone companies by letting anyone circumvent exorbitant charges and tolls as they roam by splicing them into the U.S. phone network.
The service is based on special software written for an advanced computerized central office phone switch. Subscribers are given a Seattle phone number to call. To use the service they call Seattle but allow one ring and then immediately hang up. Since no call is completed, there is no cost or room charge for this.
The digital switch has been programmed to know the number of the caller and returns the call. If the subscriber is calling through a switchboard operator, a computer- generated voice will ask for the party. This is done by name and room number, in English and in the language of the local country code. On answering, the caller gets a regular U.S. dial tone and from then on, can call any number in the world.
Calls to the United States are billed at the U.S.-to-foreign-country rate with any applicable time- of-day discount. Calls outside of the United States are billed as the sum of the U.S.-to-originating- country call and a U.S.-to-destination-country call. Billing is monthly via credit card. There is a monthly $10 service charge.
The service is very useful for calling across what are otherwise closed borders. For example, calls to Russia from Saudi Arabia or to Bosnia from Serbia that are normally restricted by local authorities may be made via Kallback. Callers can also use this method to reach any of the toll-free 800 numbers in the United States. (AT&T's US Direct will only reach AT&T 800 numbers.)
The central computer can be programmed automatically to call daily at a fixed time, so that a user, say in Cambodia, would not be dependent on getting the initial overseas connection to the United States. Once the initial dial tone is received, a series of calls can be made without having to call Seattle each time. The connection can be used for voice, facsimile, or data modem transmissions. Currently, about 40 percent of the traffic is used for nonvoice applications.
Art Credit Niculae Asciu