An Internet startup called Vonage wants to replace your local phone company. It offers cut-rate service by routing calls over its customers' Internet connections.
Vonage claims its sound quality competes favorably with Ma Bell. When customers sign up, the company sends out a converter box that connects their phones to their broadband connection (cable modem, DSL, and the like). Once installed, it works like normal phone service-complete with dial tone.
Vonage charges $25.99 for its basic residential plan or $39.99 for a package with unlimited long-distance calls to the United States and Canada. (Services like voicemail, caller ID, 911, and call forwarding are included.) It also offers a small-business plan that costs $49.99 for unlimited calling.
Its technology, known as voice-over-IP, isn't new, but it earned a bad reputation in the 1990s for bad sound and flaky connections. Development continued, however, because many corporations want it to help cut costs and improve efficiency. The service still has some drawbacks, yet cost alone may be attractive to many-especially as more and more regular phones play second fiddle to nifty new cell phones.