I moved to a new place recently and decided it was time to try out some new technology. The first thing I wanted was a Vonage phone. It's a VoIP (voice over IP) service that basically uses your broadband connection to send your voice to some server that converts it to the regular phone system (how it works). It's grown very sophisticated in the past few years and in the days I've had it, I can't tell the difference between calls made with it and a regular line.
Because your calls are essentially digital bits, they are cheap for Vonage to transmit, and their prices are low. I sprung for the $40 a month plan that has unlimited calling in the US and Canada, and they include every feature imaginable, including voicemail, caller ID, emails when you get a message, wav files of your messages downloadable, call forwarding, etc. It also means you can choose a phone number from anywhere in the country and you won't show up in any directories (I'm hoping that means no telemarketing calls either, which it has so far). Their rates to Europe and Australia are unheard of, and it means I can finally catch up with friends in Melbourne for just a few bucks a month.
The funny part is that I originally was going to get a DSL line to support it, but the local telecom requires that you also have a phone line with them to use DSL. I don't know if that's because they knew a company like Vonage would spring up to undercut their prices and service, but I decided to instead go with a cable modem. So far, my new Comcast cable modem is averaging 2.5mbps download speeds in the daylight hours, which is faster than any DSL line I've used, and it's also ten bucks cheaper than any DSL line I've had before.
I didn't intend to completely avoid the telephone companies at my new place, but I'm glad I did. Once and for all I can avoid SBC's shoddy service, overpriced products, and outdated business models. I'm hopeful that companies like Vonage totally revolutionize the industry.
update: There's a great review article about current VoIP services in the Seattle Times that puts Vonage on top of their ratings. Also, if you're interested in trying it, email me and I can send you a first-month-free link as an email (via Vonage's refer a friend program).