Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. has introduced a service that would allow customers to convert their home phones to business phones while keeping many of the features of residential service.
The new feature, called Home Business Service, could be used by an estimated 225,000 Maryland customers who operate businesses from their homes but who do not have business listings. "We're trying to help the people who are running businesses out of their homes," said Jeanine Smetana, a C&P spokeswoman.
The service is similar to another C&P service called Identa*Ring, which allows a single line to share two telephone numbers, each with a different ringing pattern. Under Home Business Service, which was initiated on a trial basis statewide last week, the residential number keeps its normal ring, while the business number is identified by two short rings.
Home Business Service customers can have the business number listed in C&P's business directory and the Yellow Pages. They also can buy additional advertisements in the Yellow Pages, Ms. Smetana said. Customers can purchase additional optional services at residential rates.
Until now C&P customers had to choose either a residential or business listing. Home businesses that wanted to be listed in the Yellow Pages had to pay for a separate business line in addition to their residential phone.
The head of an organization representing home-based businesses is concerned about the new service and urges businesses to get a separate business line, even if it costs a little more.
"I have grave reservations about it," said Rudy Lewis, president of the National Association of Home Based Businesses, based in Owings Mills.
Using the same line for business and personal purposes can lead to confusion over what exactly are business expenses, which is important when preparing income tax returns, Mr. Lewis said.
"When you are mixing your residential along with business, how do you sort it out?"
The base rate for the new service is $10.86 a month in metropolitan areas and $12.76 in other areas. Customers also must pay for their outgoing calls. There are three packages to chose from: $8 for 90 outgoing calls, $12 for 170 calls or $20 for 340 calls. Beyond those allowances, the customer pays 9 cents for each additional outgoing call.
There is a one-time $30 charge for connecting the service.
A supplement to Bell Atlantic's "Answer Call" service, the popular voice-mail service, is expected to make its debut by the end of the first quarter of next year. The new service, dubbed "Call Alert," is a cigarette pack-sized unit with a red light that attaches to phones to signal when a message is waiting in the Answer Call queue.
Currently, Answer Call customers must pick up the receiver and listen for the stuttered dial-tone to verify if a message is waiting.
The Call Alert unit is expected to sell for about $20.
Call Alert is a product of Bell Atlantic's "Champion" program, an internal entrepreneurship program that taps the ideas of employees for new products and services.