Anyone wanting unlimited phone access should check out VOIP. You may be able to cap your total local and long distance phone bill at under $20/month. The features that phone companies like to add for an extra cost all come free as a part of the service...voice mail, caller id, 3-way calling, call forwarding etc...free!
The main requirement is broadband internet, either DSL or cable, and a location in a covered area.
My first experience was with Vonage starting a couple years ago. We have cable broadband, so when the Vonage modem came I was eager to get our entire phone service switched over. All phone companies are required to give up your phone number so you can roll it over to a new service provider. For us, that was taking an existing number with Qwest in Seattle and rolling it over to Vonage. Vonage was the "receiving" company in this transfer so they were responsible for the number transfer process as follows: You give them authorization, they obtain the number from Qwest and notify you when the transfer will occur.
When we received our notification
- I called Qwest to discontinue our land-line, copper-wire service
- I went to the phone box on the outside of our house and physically disconnected our internal house wiring from the Qwest overhead telephone wires
- When I connected the Vonage modem to one of the phone jacks inside our house, all of our phones became active on the new VOIP service with our old phone number.
Alternates. The Vonage modem can easily plug into one of the ports on my ethernet router. I have also tried VOIP service from LINGO. Lingo is slightly less expensive, it is available in more states, and it provides more extensive free long distance coverage than Vonage, however, it did not work for me. The quality was lower and there were more disruptions where I would lose service. Specifically, the Lingo modem must be outside my network firewall in order to work; this requires setting up a fixed network IP address for the modem in the DMZ (outside the firewall). When a power failure, reset or any other event occurs, this delicate balance fails and Lingo goes offline. Lingo technical support was accessible, but who wants to be calling for tech support, and how do you do it when your phone system is off-line?
My friend, Ken, uses VOIP from SunRocket (http://www.sunrocket.com/) and he has been very satisfied. Their modem, called a "gizmo", is easy to set up, the service is only $199/year, it includes two free phones and some international calling in addition to the usual free calling in the US and Canada. What a deal!
Of course the phone and cable giants ATT, Qwest, ComCast, Bresnan etc have their johnny-come-lately, me-too, more expensive offerings for the uninformed customer and those with inflated brand loyalty.