Newer bundled business services often include both local and long-distance telephone service, as well as high-speed Internet access. Comprehensive packages may include broadband Internet access like DSL or T1 lines, calling cards, wireless telephone service, conference calling, toll-free numbers, or even Web site hosting.
Monthly costs typically start at $40 per phone line and 500 long-distance minutes, or they can range from two to 10 cents per minute once you go over your allotted minutes.
Some companies may require an activation fee of $15 to $40 per line, but they may be willing to waive that charge. Other plans that offer a low per-minute rate may require you to make a certain number of calls — otherwise, monthly maintenance fees may apply, which can be $10 to $100 or more.
For toll-free numbers, you'll pay a monthly service fee of $3 to $50, plus per-call charges that can range from $0.04 to $0.20 per minute, depending heavily on volume.
Remember to check the billing increment, though. A plan with one-minute billing increments at four cents per minute can easily cost you more than a plan with six-second increments at six cents per minute. However, if you're paying for unlimited long distance calls, the billing increment is irrelevant.
Carrier-access charges, taxes, and other fees will be tacked onto your monthly bills. For example, federal taxes are about 3%, and Universal Service Fund fees — a government-mandated charge to promote quality services at affordable rates — will add another 6% to 12%. These "common charges" will apply no matter which provider you choose.
If you haven't evaluated your phone service options recently, you can be almost certain you're not getting the best rates — at least, not with every call. In today's world of highly competitive telecommunications, rates and service offerings change almost daily. So the most practical approach may be to review your rates frequently, about once a year. If new, more attractive deals are available, switch — you'll keep your phone number, so there's no disruption to your everyday business.