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Phone Options for Homesick Students

By Kristen Landino

This article is the second in a series intended to introduce freshmen to life in Boston and at the Institute.

Freshman year of college is the perhaps the first time young adults are away from home for an extended period of time.

To stay in touch with friends and relatives, new students often find it necessary to purchase calling cards, cell phones, or to investigate other long distance calling options. There are many different options available, and a careful study of calling patterns will allow for the most suitable plan.

Calling Cards

Calling cards are available through all major long-distance carriers including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint.

AT&T offers two types of calling cards: a one-rate calling card and a Student Advantage card. The former charges a $1 per month access fee, but calls to anywhere in the United States cost 25 cents per minute anytime. The card can be purchased by calling 1-800-CALLATT.

The Student Advantage card not only has cheap domestic calling rates, but it also offers cardholders discounts with numerous national and local merchants. For instance, both Greyhound and Amtrak give Student Advantage cardholders a 15 percent discount on travel anywhere in the United States.

Domestic calling rates for the Student Advantage card are 25 cents per minute. There is no monthly fee.

Information about the Student Advantage Card can be obtained at the website at <>

MCI also markets calling cards, although no student discounts are available. A monthly charge of $3 applies to MCI cards and an 89 cent surcharge is billed for each call made. Calls made in the United States cost 59 cents per minute if cardholders do not have an established long distance service with MCI.

MCI also sells pre-paid calling cards which offer considerable discounts compared to direct-billed cards. 120 minutes of calling time can be purchased for $15.99, which translates to 13 cents per minute. Cards may be purchased by calling 1-800-444-3333.

Sprint offers domestic calling cards with rates as low as 10 cents per minute on nights and weekends. There is no additional monthly fee. However, daytime rates can run as high as 40 cents per minute. New customers get an additional $6 subtracted from their first bill.

International calling cards are also available through Sprint. Sprint customer service can be reached at 1-800-PINDROP.

However, the cheapest of all calling cards can be found right at MIT’s Student Center in LaVerde’s. Prepaid Connexus calling cards are sold at the register. If calling from a phone in the Boston area, all domestic calls are 10 cents per minute.

When traveling outside the Boston area, customers are obliged to use the national service which costs 19 cents per minute. International calls can also be made using this calling card. Rates vary by country and are posted in LaVerde’s. Cards are sold for $5, $10, and $20 each.

Cellular Phones

Many students at MIT find that cell phones are a convenient alternative to the hassle and expense of calling cards. Three types of cellular phones are available in the Boston area: analog, digital, and dual band service. Major Boston area service carriers include Bell Atlantic Mobile, Sprint PCS, AT&T, and Cellular One.

Digital service is the most clear, but analog has a greater coverage area. Dual band service combines the best of both as it has the ability to switch between digital and analog as the caller travels across different regions.

With the increase in communications technology, digital coverage in Massachusetts has grown over the past several years to encompass the majority of the eastern part of the state. Most major cities have digital coverage.

Various carriers offer a variety of different plans to suit different calling patterns. Some of these plans end up being cheaper than calling cards in the long run.

One plan offered by Bell Atlantic Mobile allows free nights and weekends for customers calling within the New England area (excluding Maine). Long distance calls are charged for 12 cents a minute during this period. Daytime calls under this plan cost 50 cents a minute, however.

Sprint PCS offers a digital plan which grants customers 200 free minutes of airtime a month.

One drawback to cellular phones is that usually customers must pay for both outgoing and incoming calls, unlike the standard practice of charging only for outgoing calls.

Often cell phone companies give away lower-end analog phones free if customers sign a contact for a year-long calling plan with them. However, digital phones in general must be purchased and tend to be more expensive than analog phones. Dual-band service varies from cell company to cell company--some offer it and some don’t.

Collect Calls

Be wary of making collect calls or charging calls on your credit card. Although this might seem like a great idea because mom and dad foot the bill, rates are very expensive. One in-state call to a neighboring area code could run as high as $2 per minute and include a connection fee as well.

Collect calls are best made only in emergency situations.