the tasty little benefit of long-distance calling at virtually no
cost--for now, at least
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #337 April 9, 1996 High Tech Office column
gave consumers the op-
portunity to make long-distance phone calls through providers other
than BC Tel, we've all had the pleasure of trying to figure
out whose plan makes the most sense for home and business calls. Now
the Internet is providing long-distance competition with a twist:
according to software providers like Vancouver's Telescape
you can make long-distance calls for free.
is just one
of several companies which figure they can make a profit while
a way for you to make your calls at no cost, other than the normal
fee for your Internet connection. You'll need a computer with an
connection, a sound card (built into Macintosh computers, but an add-on
for many PCs) and a microphone. You'll also need special
provides its TS Intercom software free at its Web site (http://
And, of course, the person at the other end will need the same setup.
Telescape's product is competing with others such as Quarterdeck's
WebTalk (about $75), but Telescape founder Geoffrey Hansen
says his company has had a strong response since posting the
beta version of its software in November.
To share a
call, both parties have to be on the Internet at the same time, and
in contact with Telescape's "operator"; users can see who has contacted
the operator, and request a connection. With the free version of the
software, only one party can speak at a time, as with CB-radio, but
the commercial version is voice-activated: as soon as you begin
the other party can hear you.
a full alternative to BC Tel or Sprint: you can't simply type
in someone's Internet address and make their computer ring.
this sort of connection could prove valuable for many businesses.
If you're on the road, you could arrange with the folks back in the
office to report in every morning at 10, for example, knowing that
you can take as long as you need without racking up large long-distance
charges. And you can use TS Intercom to transmit data--computer files,
photos, and the like--at the same time that you're talking. Future
enhancements from Telescape and its competitors include shared
a chart or table displayed on one user's computer will appear on the
other end as well.
perhaps, is video conferencing. This is already here in a limited
fashion, using free software for Macs and Windows called CUSeeMe (get
it?), and Connectix, makers of the $140 black-and-white
QuickCam, is already selling VideoPhone software for an additional
$99 or so. It's workable over networks or ISDN phone lines, but the
limited bandwidth of a standard modem on a phone line makes it little
more than a toy for now.
* * *
update... If you plan to get that long-distance feeling over the
'Net, you should know that a trade association of U.S. long distance
services has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to
halt the use of the Internet for this purpose, noting that this
interstate and international telecommunications service...creates
the ability to bypass local, long-distance and international carriers
and allows for calls to be made at virtually no cost." America's
Carriers Tele- communication Association points out that a
call on the 'Net can be made for an average cost of about 3.3 cents
per minute, compared to seven times that for an average residential
call, and is asking the FCC to define permissible communications on
the Internet. Just another sign that the free honeymoon on the 'Net
may be about to end.