5 Questions to Ask Your Prospective Telecom Provider

The deregulation of the telecommunications industry during the 1980s made it possible for anyone to start a telecommunications services company and begin to compete with the likes of ATT.Present day telecommunications carriers can handle a myriad of services for both voice and data.  But with so many choices, how do you find and decide on just the right one for your company?The following is a list of questions that should serve as a guide to helping to narrow down your choice of prospective carriers.1. What experience do you have as a provider in the telecom industry and what type of companies are current clients?After the deregulation of AT&T, the number of telecommunications companies based in the U.S. soared.  Many have since gone out of business.  In many respects, the marketplace has returned to a pseudo “monopoly” state, with just a few carriers currently dominating the industry.The company you eventually decide on does not have to be the biggest.  It should have a successful, steady, and multi-year track record for servicing similar companies in your industry.  A little research goes a long way in this area.2. Do I have to sign a contract, and if so for how long?Telecommunications carriers like contracts because they “lock” in customers for a set period of time.  Do not shy away from companies who require contracts, but do be diligent on the negotiation of the terms.Generally, the longer the term of the contract, the better rates you should be able to negotiate.  Rates and lengths can vary widely, so plan on spending considerable time hammering out the details of the contract to your advantage.3. What kind of billing increments and surcharges are involved or included in the pricing?Telecom carriers have devised a variety of methods for billing customers for local and long distance calling.   Always ask your prospective carrier to lay out ALL billing options for both local and long distance calling.For example, if your outgoing long distance calls tend to be very short, ask if the provider offers 6-second (or even 1 second) billing increment plans.  Depending on the monthly volume, these alternatives could add up to major cost-savings.Hidden charges or surcharges should be uncovered before signing any contract.  “One time” charges (ex. installations) and monthly recurring charges should be identified as well.  Your telecom representative should be able to easily explain the billing method(s) used and any surcharges or penalties that will be incurred if contract requirements are not met in a given month.4. Are you a reseller, or do you own your own facilities?The Telecommunications Act of 1996 forced incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) to open up their networks to competitors.  As a result, hundreds of CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) were created to take advantage of the newly deregulated environment.  These “resellers” are companies that did not actually own the network or switches, but rather “leased” them from the incumbent LECs.Always ask your prospective telecom vendor if they do indeed own the equipment and switches used to transmit your telecom voice and data traffic.   Going with a reseller is not necessarily a bad decision, but companies that have control over the network have a distinct advantage over 3rd party resellers.5. Who handles the account after we sign the contract?When it comes to telecom services, what can go wrong probably will at some point in the future.  For this reason, it is imperative that your telecom provider be there when you need them.  Billing issues, service outages, moves, adds, changes, etc. will require the intervention of a real live person to assist when help is needed.Be aware of the issues that can (and probably will) go wrong, then insist that your account be assigned a personal representative when they do.   Ideally, the account representative should alert you to more competitive plans and services when they become available during the term of your contract.SummaryThe importance of your understanding your business needs is vital to choosing the most cost-effective telecom service provider.   The main objective should be to seek out and engage a telecom provider who first seeks to understand your business, then provides efficient and cost-effective solutions to help your business prosper.   The time and effort it takes finding just the right one is well worth it in the long run.If you engage a telecom consultant to work on your behalf, they will be able to assist you in finding the best and most cost-effective carrier for your business.  If you plan on going it alone, be sure to get your key questions answered before making your final decision.

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