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Tapping Into The Internet - Dialing Without Dollars

If your long-distance phone bills have been going through the roof, log on to the Internet and call anybody in the U.S. and Canada...free!

[Editor's Note: telephone rates shift constantly. This article was current as of when it was submitted, but your mileage may vary.]

"On an average day, I probably make a half dozen or so long distance phone calls and yesterday, I spent an hour interviewing a videographer for an article we were writing for VideoMaker magazine." Beverly Boe, Associate Editor of The National News Service in Washington and a much-published freelance writer, explains why free long distance telephone calls fit into her life...and budget. "Last month, my telephone bill was under $50 even though I made over a hundred long distance calls, many of them lasting for more than hour One of our offices in California has long-distance telephone bills running into the hundreds of dollars every month, so they're switching to the Internet this week. The savings from phone calls alone pays for our cable Internet access and then some."

Beverly is one of the millions of computer owners who has discovered how to use their computer and a remote link via the Internet for computer-to-phone service anywhere in the U.S. and Canada...and it's free of charge, 100% legal, with no gimmicks (honest!). It works with Windows and Macs and is so simple my non-computer mother is using it. When they boot up their computer, a telephone dialpad appears on screen and they dial any local or U.S/Canada number with their mouse - clicking on the numbers - or with the numeric keys of their keypad. They click on DIAL or CALL (depending on the program) and the computer speed dials the number. "Because I have cable access, none of the office telephones are tied up when I'm talking on the phone,"Beverly says, "and everything goes out and comes in via the Internet network. I haven't seen a long distance phone bill for over six months." She gives the sign of the cross with her hands and looks toward the sky. Another one of those computer miracles, she says smiling.

How does it work? Once you're on the Internet and the program is running, you enter a telephone number, you speak into your mike and your voice is digitized, the words divided into data packets and sent over the Internet to the people providing the service. When everything arrives at the other end, it's de-digitized and the person who receives the call hears what you have to say. When they respond, the process starts all over again. All of this takes fractions of a second.

There are several free phone call services I discovered on the Internet during my hunt for the perfect solution to not paying for long distance telephone calls. All are legal, so nobody from the phone company will come knocking our your door and haul you off for bridging the communication gap without authorization. They're available to anyone who wants them. Features vary from very simple to somewhat complex, so choose the one that best fits your needs. Some offer both incoming and outgoing phone features. Try these:

*Dialpad (at http://dialpad.com)

*TrulyGlobal (http://www.vocaltec.com)

*PhoneFree (http://www.phonefree.com)

*Net2Phone (http://www.net2phone.com) or

*Yahoo Messenger (http://yahoo.com and click on Messenger).

Personally, I prefer DialPad. It's straight-forward and simple to use. After you download the program, sign on for a user name and password and you can immediately start making telephone calls. In the past week, I've talked to business associates and friends in California, Texas, Washington State, Montreal and New York while sitting in front of my computer, both hands free to shuffle through papers or stir a cup of coffee. I can store all of my frequently-called numbers in the address book they provide and speed click with a click of the mouse. I'm investigating some of the overseas rates available via an Internet phone. I have friends in France and Guam--and with rates starting at six cents a minute to some countries in Europe, the rates are better than the phone company's. And...I like the convenience of sitting back in my chair and chattering away in French to a friend while I'm thumbing through my French-English dictionary. All of my friends in Guam speak English, so no translation problem there.

For the technically challenged, the good news is all you need is a sound card and a microphone and chances are you got that with your computer. The bad news is that those cheap computer microphones with the flexible goose neck are just not up to the job, so you might want to invest in something with a little more quality. You could try the headphone/boom mike solution; it works fine, but it's not for me. I prefer having my calls coming out of the computer speakers so other people in the office can listen in. I've experimented with a variety of mikes ranging from hand-held to goose neck to lavaliere, and found GN Technologies (http://gnnetcom.com/usa/e.va.html) to be the best for my use. It's operates like the mike on a speaker phone (no-hands) and sits on top of your monitor, stretching about 17-inches from side to side. It contains eight microphones, so it picks up everything you say and anyone in the office can talk to the person you're calling. It requires no software other than software you already use with your sound card. Plug it into your mike jack in the back and start talking away.

While you're using your computer for other jobs, the phone programs sit minimized at the bottom of your screen on the taskbar. When you're ready to make a call, click and the dialpad jumps up on the screen. Dial and you're on your way. With the full duplex feature, the connection is completely hands-free, so you or your office staff can take notes, look up records files, clean out your desk drawer or type away on the keyboard. Amazing!

For personal or business calls, you can look up numbers around the world free at Switchboard (http://www.switchboard.com), 555-1212 (http://www.555-1212.com), TelDir (http://www.teldir.com/eng), and other on-line telephone directories covering every corner of the globe [Editor's Note: At least for US phone numbers, I find 411.com easier to use than Switchboard]. Many offer reverse lookup capabilities, so you can enter a personal or business company name and get a phone number or e-mail address; enter a phone number and get a name and address; enter an e-mail address and get a phone number and name. With regular telephone directories, 13% of the listings are inaccurate the day the directory hits your desk, so this is a quick and accurate way to find out who's where and how to get in touch. When you get the number, click on your free phone program and start dialing away.

What's next? The computer experts I talk to say video/phone connections at a price people like us can afford. They just have to work out the details associated with transmitting quality video over the lines that link you to the Internet, but once they do, with a small wireless web camera sitting on top of your computer and an Internet computer-to-computer phone connection, you'll be able to send voice and picture to anyplace in the world. If a customer wants to see your product or your sister wants to see your new baby girl, just hold it/her up in front of the camera. There are some limited versions already available, so check out TrulyGlobal at http://www.trulyglobal.com/my/my_index.jsp.

If you're an active long distance dialer, you can probably save enough using these program to pay for the cost of your online connection. The convenience of hands-free operation and freeing up your phone lines makes this one of the best features of the Internet.

Phil Philcox is a writer, author of over 1200 articles and 45 non-fiction books, including Computerized Bookkeeping and Tax Form Preparation, and How To Earn More Than $30,000 A Year With Your Home Computer. Many of his books are available through Amazon.com or at local bookstores. You can contact him at http://philphilcoxboe.homestead.com/writers.html.


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