UNTIL the early 1980s, if you wanted a phone in your house – even an extension in the bedroom – you were reliant on the Post Office turning out to install it for you. The waiting list was a year long.
Privatisation of the telephone network changed that almost overnight, and today you are free to choose between a myriad of suppliers, of which the Post Office’s successor, BT, is but one. But the telephone itself is no longer the principal reason for needing a line into your house; that same wire also carries your broadband signal. For this reason, the main players are keen to sell you both at the same time – a bundling tactic known as double-play. If they can, they will throw in a pay-TV contract and perhaps even a mobile deal, too: triple or quad-play heaven for them but potentially less value for you.
Despite appearances, you can often get better deals by negotiating your phone and internet packages separately.
You may find yourself paying an extra £2-£3 a month for broadband, but saving much more on your line rental and call charges.
Line rental in particular has risen by nearly 50 per cent in recent years and now costs between £11.75 and £16 a month – but you can reduce it to the equivalent of £9.50 by paying annually.
However, it is call charges where the real disparity lies, and if you pick the wrong tariff you can see your bill multiplying exponentially and unnecessarily. BT, for instance, on its Unlimited Weekend package, charges 9p a minute for weekday calls to landlines plus a 15p “set-up fee” for each call. That means a 60-second call will cost 24p. Compare that with First Telecom, which on its Talk Easy tariff charges 2p a minute peak and 1p a minute off-peak, with no set-up fee at all. The same call is therefore up to 95 per cent cheaper.
Other suppliers look to profit from calls to mobile numbers, with rates varying wildly. Mobiles are also often excluded from “unlimited” calling packages.
Heavy phone users will gain most from shopping around but check the small print; it’s not unknown for small suppliers to try to switch your gas and electricity contracts – by ticking the wrong box you may inadvertently give them permission.
A few years from now, renting a landline with your broadband may become optional. But for now, the companies have you hooked on the line.