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It may have given the movie character of some 25 years ago, “ET”, a lot of difficulty to phone home, but I can assure you that the little extraterrestrial alien did not have to fact the bewildering array of telephone choices we human beings must deal with nowadays.

I know that we – and many expatriate Dominicans – frequently wish to make calls back to Dominica, as we do from the USA when we can’t be on the Nature Island. And, when we are in Dominica we’ll wish to call back from the Caribbean to our daughter, dear friends and possibly others. What are the options and how can we make sense of them?

This is when having a computer with Internet access is really helpful. You can compare the myriad telephone plans available by surfing to Saveonphone.com. Using that service, we settled on 3U Telecom as our preferred provider of home-phone to international destination service. But the 3U Web site is set up with the presumption that you’re calling from the USA. It is difficult for anyone to sign up for 3U service other than on its Web site, and the toll-free number to speak with a company representative probably only works from within the US and Canada. It is 1-800-97-ASK 3U. You might find some other carrier better for you.

The plans you’ll find at SaveOnPhone.com are for telephone-to-telephone calling. Another possibility is to use the Internet itself to make phone calls from a telephone, or to make calls from your computer. For the former you could use Vonage, or for the latter, Skype.

Vonage lets you make telephone calls over the Internet from your home telephone. You must have a high-speed Internet connection. You can call any Vonage-served telephone in the world for “free”, but you pay the US$25 per month fee. You can also call other telephones via your Vonage telephone; the company’s Web site gives rate info. I have serious reservations about Vonage though, based both on my own horrible experience with the company and current news about it. I took Vonage for home telephone service (you can use it instead of or along with normal phone service) and it worked fine for a few months.

Then my calls began to become garbled and tended to drop, and no amount of customer support seemed to help. Finally I quit Vonage, and that proved difficult and the company tried to illegally charge my credit card for months thereafter, charges that I had to work to successfully refute. And Vonage has been on the losing end of several patent infringement lawsuits. Its stock, once a high-flier, began a steady decline over the past couple of years and then plummeted as its legal woes (some are in addition to the patent infringement losses) mounted. As of September 27, Vonage stock is under US$1 per share. Frankly I’d be surprised if Vonage survives in its present form; but there is the possibility that Sprint will purchase what’s left of Vonage, but I’d wager that the plans and rates would all change.

I use Skype to call other computers. It is free. It even works using dial-up Internet – not well, but passably and the price is right. Both computers must have speakers and a microphone, and those are built into laptops. A mic for a desktop PC costs about US$5 (in the US). If a computer has a Web camera, the call can even be accompanied by video. A Web cam costs about US$20 in the US. Skype also offer monthly paid membership plans and call rates for computer to telephone calling and a Skype telephone is also available. Download Skype and install it and give me a Skype call (as the company says “SKYPE me”) at dan_and_ruth.

There’s tons of technology underlying telephony and the Internet that I won’t go into. It could be confusing or boring, and not only could I get it wrong as well, but also the technology changes rapidly. Rate plans change frequently too, so check with SaveOnPhone.com from time to time.

Or else, like ET, use junk you happen to have lying around your house and yard to build yourself an interstellar telephone that is somehow able to violate the natural speed of light limit that Albert Einstein figured out to phone home.

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