As I mentioned in Part 1 (Cutting the cord – Part 1 – Internet), there are five main areas for people looking to “cut the cord”: internet, TV, home phone, cellular phone and website hosting. Of all of them, the one that people are the most bothered by but least likely to do anything about is the home phone.
I grew up with Bell. And I was a long-time victim, err, customer of Bellopoly. I had some perverse pleasure when my wife (then girlfriend) and I moved in together as it meant only paying Bell once between us. One of those cost savings that you actually are gleeful about, in a strange way.
When the CRTC forced Bell to deregulate some of their offerings, other companies popped up to offer home phone service but the prices weren’t that much better and it wasn’t a strong incentive to switch. People relied on their home phone, an essential service you needed to work, and not something you messed with…you paid Bell their monthly extortion, and you grumbled, but you didn’t do anything about it.
Then cell service exploded. Lots and lots of people have ditched their landlines completely, only having cell phones. Mainly the under-30 age bracket, but not exclusively. Just as payphones have followed the dodo out the door, landlines are no longer “must-have” essential services for everyone. Lots of households have multiple cell phones, and with the explosion of smartphones, most of them have them with them everywhere they go. Less chance of leaving your old-style flip phone in the console of your car, or not having it close by.
So when people have “cut the cord”, they have been more likely of late to just cut the landline entirely and go all cellular, all the time. I don’t know that it is a viable solution for us. I am not a huge cell user, honestly. If I have or make 10 calls a month, it’s high. For my wife and I it is mainly about convenience when one of us is out (me) and the other (wife) wants something to be picked up. Or I call from the grocery store and say, “Hey, you put x on the list, did you want 500 ml or a litre?”. Or more often, “You put x on the list…what the **** is x and / or where in the store would I find it?”. I also have a mental blank when I think, “So, whose cell would we put as the number for dealing with our internet, probably me?”. Silly, as it makes no difference whatsoever, but I have some mild comfort from the fact there is a “common” line to reach either Andrea or I, even if we’re not there to answer directly. Also, I like the fact that if my cell phone rings when I’m at work, it’s guaranteed to be worth answering — so few people have it, if it rings, it’s likely my wife or my son’s school. If I start listing it for every business we deal with, I’ll get spam I really don’t want.
As a result, I’ve never really considered cancelling my home phone. I just left it with Bell for a long time, and then when Rogers took over all my other offerings a few years back during a move, I switched to Rogers Home Phone too. Didn’t hurt that I wasn’t sure if the phone lines in our new house were that reliable. They sure looked like cheap wiring. And I never had a problem with the Rogers setup. We have a wireless phone in the house that the base plugs into a jack, and the rest of the extensions connect to the base wirelessly. You only need one jack to work. Because I had Rogers internet, it meant I needed a separate wire setup so that the connection came out of the cable jack, split into phone and computer/internet and then there was the modem, router, computer daisy chain while the other line went back into the wall and wired the phone. All of it worked, no issues.
Well, one issue. The same as with Bell. We don’t use our home phone a lot, and it was running us between $30 and $50 per month over the last few years. I’d tweak the setup once in awhile to get the cost down, but it really was a drag on spending. My mom passed away 3 years ago, and I only call one sibling long distance…very rarely do I make phone calls, most of my comms with people are either in person or by email, facebook or occasional text. My wife uses the phone to talk to the parental units and her sister in town, plus a few other business related things, but her cell would likely work as well. Still we wanted the “common number”. We considered a complete ditch, but weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger.
Enter the VOIP…voice-over-internet-protocol. It’s the fancy way of saying that instead of Rogers Cable or Bell Telephone providing your phone service, you run the connection through the internet. Some think it is just like Skype, but not quite. First, it’s just a phone, no video connector. Second, Skype just runs on your smartphone or tablet or computer, whereas VOIP uses an actual phone for the hardware (usually). Third, there’s a company on the other end, just like Rogers and Bell, handling the connection for you. Not exactly like an “operator”, but close enough. What’s the attraction? You can keep your home phone number, you can use your existing phones, you buy a base unit that plugs into your router, and…drum roll please…it costs $3.95 a month. A tenth the cost of the landline and we still get most of the benefits of an actual landline through the virtual one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are reasons why you might not want to do it. First and foremost, it uses the internet. If you have a lousy internet connection, this might not be great for you. Second, there can be slight lags in your conversation. It’s not as crystal clear as your regular Bell line, and sometimes there can be a half-second delay when you’re chatting. I have a friend who was using it, liked it, didn’t find the lag egregious, so we gave it a try. My wife thinks it’s fine, barely notices it. Third, there is the “emergency” situation. Most of the stubborn people say, “Oh, I need a landline in case there’s an emergency.” And if you have VOIP and your power or even just your internet is out, you have no phone. Cue the backup cell phones that we already have, so not much of a concern. As well, if you have to phone 911, the computer won’t know automatically where you live, so you’ll have to give the operator the address. Just as if you were calling from a cell phone.
In the end, we went with Ooma. I’d like to say I checked out 5-10 great providers and this was the best, but really I went with it because a friend had it and liked it, with her husband being a decent geek who did a bunch of that type of research before me. The base unit ran me $125 or so at Best Buy. Setup was relatively easy. You plug it into your router, it connects to the internet, downloads all the latest firmware, and you walk through account setup on the computer. 20 minutes later or so, you’re good to go with a temporary Ooma number. You can keep that number if you want, or put in a request to port your old home phone number over. You can even run them simultaneously if you want to try it and see if you’re okay with it before ditching your other landline.
You might be thinking, “Sure, how much is long-distance though?”. How about free anywhere in Canada? There is a glitch with other long-distance — whereas Bell didn’t care how much you ran up the first time, they just billed you after the fact, Ooma is pay as you go. So if you want to phone elsewhere, you have to put money on your account. Mind you at less than a penny per minute to call the U.S., it’s not like you have to put a lot of cash on the account, but you do have to put a little. Just like buying a phone card for long-distance, entirely through your online account too.
We’ve had no issues so far, porting was super easy. They offer you a whole bunch of extra features in the first month to get you to upgrade to Ooma Premiere ($14.95 a month) and the features are sweet. Better voicemail. Forwarding to your cell phone easily and with some extra conditions. Copies of your voicemails sent to you by email. Notifications by text or email that someone has left you a message at home. Even the option to have the phone listed in any area code in the country (i.e. if you want it to look like a B.C. number, you can have it be a B.C. number even if you’re living in Chicoutimi!). Great options, and only an extra $11 a month. Still well under the $40 I was paying before, on average. Yet we didn’t need most of them. We have voicemail, we can access it remotely, that’s good enough.
$4 a month instead of $40. Instead of $500 this year, it will cost $175 with the hardware. After this year, it will drop to $50 a year, pretty much what I was paying monthly under the old system with taxes. Oh, and that $3.95 a month? That includes your 911 emergency access fee, so it isn’t even Ooma charging you the full $4.
Likely we’ll think of ditching the landline altogether, but for now, I’m willing to live with the cost/benefit ratio. And I’m okay with saving $325 this year alone, even accounting for the new hardware cost.