One of the basic principles of telecoms in North America is that local calls are free and you pay per-minute for long-distance calls. This is how things have always been, but frankly it’s time we moved on.
Free local calls used to make sense
Back in the early days, free local calls probably made sense. Back then, “local” probably meant “calls to another line on the same end-office switch as your line”. At that time, making on-switch calls free was probably the simplest option for everyone.
However, since then we have created an immense amount of unnecessary complexity in the phone network through a desire to maintain the status quo. For example:
- The introduction of competitive carriers suddenly allowed new number blocks in the same rate center, therefore requiring free local calls between two different service providers.
- Local number portability rules allow people to port their number to any other carrier in the same LATA, so suddenly free local calls have to be transported across third-party tandems and networks to keep that commitment.
- No consumer has any realistic hope of understanding which calls are local and which are not. If all numbers within the same NPA were local that would be easy to understand, but that’s not how things work true. Not only do some intra-NPA calls count as LD, but there are some local calling areas that span NPA boundaries.
- Depending on the number dialed, a subscriber may need to dial 7D, 10D or 1+10D to reach their destination – and in some cases the only way they’ll figure that out is by trial and error.
- We often divide our billing records into local, intraLATA and interLATA – further adding to the complexity.
Wireline industry is stuck in the past
Back in the day, most calls would be local, so it made sense to charge for a long-distance call as a rare event.
Today, I think the wireline industry needs to make an adjustment and bundle all national calls within a fixed monthly fee (a higher fee), and only charge per-minute for international destinations.
- Cell phone providers already do this. They don’t care whether a call is local or long distance. A call is a call. And what’s more “unlimited talk” is pretty standard.
- Many hosted business VoIP providers do the same. There’s a monthly fee per line, and that includes all standard features and unlimited calling within the US.
So it’s not like consumers are unaccustomed to the idea – they see other providers do this all the time.
My secret ulterior motive in making this argument is that it will make switch translations MUCH simpler. Most telcos we work with have dozens if not hundreds of tables of translations with the sole purpose of figuring out whether a dialed number is local, intraLATA or interLATA – so that we can create the correct CDR.
Simpler is better
What if we decided we didn’t care? What if we just created billing records on the trunks, and left it at that?
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite this simple – so I’m not expecting anyone to read this and then immediately make a change. Many ILECs have tariff restrictions that would prohibit a change, and of course, any change would in itself create work in the short term. However I would challenge anyone reading this to consider the following actions.
- Be permissive in your dialing plan. If someone dials 7D or 10D or 1+10D and you know what number they mean, then let the call complete. Let’s make things as easy as possible for our users.
- If you’re offering service in a new area (perhaps as a CLEC), consider offering a new style of service plan – where a flat fee includes all national calls. Then you won’t even need to build the translations to categorize calls from these subscribers. You can route all calls over your new SIP trunks and pay a low per-minute rate.
Above all – wherever possible – let’s try to make our network and our products simpler and easier. Simpler to configure, simpler to maintain and easier to use and understand for our subscribers.