It's high time that consumers got access to a kinder, gentler Integrated Services Digital Network, or so say the telcos and other companies that are offering new options and services designed to simplify signing up for and using ISDN connections.
ISDN gets users on the Net at speeds up to 128 kbps. But, like anything that's better, it's more expensive than dial-up service over regular phone lines. To help decrease that cost, Bell Atlantic is preparing to offer flat-rate charges for its existing ISDN access, said Ellsworth Edwards, a company spoksesman.
The telco now offers ISDN service for a monthly fee plus hourly charges in each of its coverage areas, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Typical customers now pay a monthly charge of $28 to $30 plus one to two cents for each minute they're connected to their ISDN service, Edwards said.
Under the new pricing plan, users will pay a flat monthly fee with no hourly charge. For example, the telco could offer a 20-, 40-, or 200-hour plan for a set price. The company has yet to specify the flat rates but said customers will see a definite cost savings.
"The whole point is that we could substantially reduce the cost for residential ISDN," Edwards said.
Bell Atlantic, one of the largest providers of ISDN service in the United States with more than 150,000 lines, will submit a proposal for the new pricing plan to the Public Utilities Commission in each of its coverage areas in May and hopes to offer the new rates by midyear.
Although it's too soon to tell how much ISDN customers will save, the Bell Atlantic plan appears to buck a trend among other telcos, including Pacific Bell, to raise their ISDN tariffs. The rate hikes have angered customers and consumer groups, including the Consumer Project on Technology. But one analyst said the companies raised rates only after losing money on flat-rate unlimited access plans like the one that Bell Atlantic is about to launch.
"[Telcos] were getting killed by these people who dialed in and stay on all day," said Daniel Briere, president of TeleChoice, a telecommunications consultancy based in Verona, New Jersey. "The networks were never designed for that kind of traffic pattern."
Motorola last week announced ISDN LifeGuards, a telephone support service that allows consumers to order ISDN in a single call (800-894-ISDN). Microsoft earlier this month launched a "Get ISDN" extension to its Web site that will allow users to order ISDN services from a number of different service providers.