Escaping Ma Bell’s Vile Offspring
May 14, 2012 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Please share your experience purchasing local landline service from a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier.

I’d like to keep my landline. I don’t want to continue paying AT&T a base rate of $17.85 for their supposedly “bare bones” measured rate service which with taxes and fees comes to $30.11 per month.

According to the Texas PUC, there are a number of Competitive Local Exchange Carriers operating in my state. Before spending time calling them for rates, I’m curious whether I’m likely to find truly competitive prices that would undercut AT&T.

If you have experience purchasing from a CLEC, please describe their rates and service compared to the major telcos. If you have experience with a CLEC in the Austin, Texas area, that’d be great, but I’d be interested in hearing any experiences in the US.

posted by audi alteram partem to Work & Money (10 answers total)
I worked for a major phone company in So. Cal for many years. Service from a CLEC is merely your AT&T service with a different name. It is doubtful that your costs will be significantly lower although TX might have different pricing structures locally. seems like all telcos like to tout their low monthly rate, but it's the local, state and Federal taxes that inflate the bottom line. The biggest headache you will encounter will be resolving trouble: you will have to call your CLEC and if they cannot resolve it simply or immediately, the CLEC will create a trouble report to have AT&T troubleshoot the problem. I have seen countless issues where the the LEC and the CLEC have gone back and forth about whose "problem" it is while the customer waits it out. Of course, you may never have a repair issue and that would be the ideal situation. YMMV.
posted by Don92705 at 6:21 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'd like to keep my landline and not go the VOIP or cell-phone only route in order to retain access to 911 that would: (1) be most likely to get my address to the dispatcher even if the caller can't state our address (and enhanced 911 doesn't seem to be at that point yet) and (2) would work during an extended power outage.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2012

I too worked at The Phone Company for many, many years. Actually, if you cut off your landline, but they put Quickservice on it, you'll still get dial tone and you can call, two numbers.

1. The local phone company to turn service on for you.

2. 911

So if you want a land line exclusively for 911, go ahead and cut off your AT&T service and ask them to put Quickservice on the line (tell them a lie, that you're going to sublet your house or something). Now you can call 911 if you need to.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on May 14, 2012

I've had voice and Internet through a CLEC for years. I don't think the price is any better, but Verizon could only give me 768/128 DSL. The CLEC gave me 8MB/1.5MB plus unlimited local and long distance for the same price. The only reason I still have a land line is that removing it would only reduce my bill $15 a month. For that little savings, I just haven't bothered to set up a VoIP solution for the house.
posted by COD at 7:01 AM on May 14, 2012

What odinsdream said. :) I've been on VOIP for 3 years now, never been worried about 911 because my address is registered there.

I attempted to use a CLEC but some nincompoop cut the line for the whole block, and we couldn't get it turned on within a month. The CLEC charged us for the month and installation anyway.

Never ended up using them.

Ruthless Bunny - thanks for that info. I've gone VOIP only; now when I pick up my "dial phone" I get just dead air. I'll ask for Quickservice.
posted by tilde at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2012

Response by poster: It's my admittedly under-informed understanding that my POTS line will work in more power-loss circumstances than VoIP. If my house is without power, I'd have to use a UPS or some other backup to power my router & VoIP box, and even then I'm not sure I'd have internet availability or if it would meet or exceed the availability of a landline in an extended power loss situation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2012

This is true, until the power central office goes. :) Had POTS during a hurricane until the power to the local CO box went. Power in the neighborhood didn't come back for a couple of weeks, but the POTS line and cell towers were back in service within a day or so.
posted by tilde at 8:33 AM on May 14, 2012

I can speak to the power at the Central Office. Each CO has generators with fuel, as long as the supply of fuel is consistent, your CO should never lose power. In addition to that each CO has 3 days worth of battery backup. Literally a room fule of wet cells, essentially car batteries.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, there have only ever been two CO failures in the history of telecommunications. They were both in Chicago in the '80s. The first was a fire in 1988. The second was a flood.

During Katrina all of the COs in New Orleans, except for 1 were destroyed. This played havoc with not only local communications, but with cellular communications. Each cell signal hits a local exchange at some point, if it's gone, you have no connectivity. You can still text though. So there's that.

In Hurricane Andrew, many houses blew away, but the phone still worked, in what was left. BellSouth had to take out ads in the newspaper to let people know to call in to disconnect their phones.

If you want your POTS line to work in a blackout or power failure, be sure to have an old fashioned corded handset. You can buy one for about $5 at any discount store.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2012

Fascinating, Ruthless Bunny. I can see the boxes that service my neighborhood from the road; I wonder if it was just the boxes that failed, then. Once they got portable generators out to each box, 'phone service came back on.
posted by tilde at 11:23 AM on May 14, 2012

If you're not served directly out of the CO, you only get 4-6 hours of battery. Some of those boxes you see are actually what they call SLCs or DLCs (and in some cases are actually full on remote switches, but that's more rare) that connect back to the central office using one or more digital circuits. This vastly reduces the size of the trunk cables they have to run because they only need a few pairs per SLC instead of one or more per household.

This is great, in that it improves quality, saves the company from having to install a lot of copper, and may enable you to get DSL even when you're far away from the central office, but it's bad in that they supply line power for your phone, so when they go your phone service goes. If the box floods, you're dead in the water. If the box loses power, you're dead in the water unless they get a generator out there. If it's a localized power outage, they usually will get a generator out before the batteries die. If not, they usually don't unless you're next to a police station or something.

That said, they're almost always better about it than the damn cable company.
posted by wierdo at 2:46 PM on May 14, 2012

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