For small businesses, pays to shop aroundCareful shopping...


February 14, 1994|By Steve Auerweck | Steve Auerweck,Staff Writer

For small businesses, pays to shop around

Careful shopping can save a small business as much as 44 percent in long-distance costs, according to pricing comparisons released by a consumer group last week.

The Washington-based Telecommunications Research & Action Center, or TRAC, compared an assortment of plans from most of the large long-distance vendors -- Allnet, Cable & Wireless Inc., MCI Communications Inc., LDDS Metromedia and US Sprint.

Notably absent was AT&T, which refused to provide pricing data for the survey, according to TRAC.

The group compared the current list with one issued in 1992 and found a 31 percent drop in the cheapest prices for those with long-distance bills of below $150 a month.

For businesses with bills in the $6,000 range though, the decline was only 6 percent.

But the game of shopping for phone service involves sorting through a lot of fine print. As TRAC puts it, "The maximum savings choice today is often between competing plans, not necessarily between competing companies."

And discounts hinge on several variables. "The more lines you subscribe and the longer you are willing to commit to a company, the lower the prices are likely to be," TRAC writes.

The full comparison chart is available to those who send $5 and a self-addressed stamped envelope to TRAC, P.O. Box 12038, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Here are a few highlights of the company comparisons:

* Allnet's Vantage plan offered the best price in all but the highest-usage category of standard contracts. But LDDS was often only a few dollars more.

* When TRAC factored in discounts for long-term commitments, LDDS' Easy Answer plan took the lead in every category.

* Savings can be impressive. In the high-end category, TRAC calculated that calls that would cost $5,263 from LDDS would add up to $8,270 under MCI's Prism Plus plan.

The group points out, of course, that there's more to service than low prices, and different companies may have different needs.

GEnie, NBC to offer on-line services

Rockville-based GEnie is one of three computer services that will team with NBC to offer an assortment of network information and promotions on-line.

The convergence with General Electric Information Services is not surprising, since General Electric also owns NBC. But last week's announcements by the network included similar deals with America Online and Prodigy. The new services, which come out of the broadcaster's marketing department, are expected to be available on GEnie by May.

A sampling:

* "What's New at NBC": Network announcements and NBC personalities in the news.

* "Behind the Scenes at NBC's Hit Programs": Information about the shows and their stars.

* "NBC Viewer Opinion Survey"

* "NBC Roundtable"

The network plans to market NBC merchandise and run contests on-line and to offer areas where viewers can pose questions to those on both sides of NBC's cameras.

Similar partnerships between information carriers and those who can provide content are springing up everywhere. Earlier this month, Bell Atlantic latched onto Knight-Ridder Inc., publisher of newspapers around the country, as a partner for Bell's planned Stargazer video-on-demand service.

While both companies believe it's the thing to do strategically, they don't seem to have a strong grip on the details of how the alliance will shape up. They say we shouldn't expect to see a resulting product before 1996.

Calif. computer firms planning to merge

Two California computer gaming giants whose pedigrees date back to the heyday of the Apple II agreed to merge last week.

Electronic Arts of San Mateo said it will acquire Broderbund Software Inc. of Novato in a stock swap valued at $400 million.

Electronic Arts already distributes Broderbund products in Europe and has offered game cartridge versions of some Broderbund titles.

Commerce, OMB release CD-ROM

A new CD-ROM title hit the market last week with little of the usual fanfare, but it's likely to be a hot seller in some circles.

The CD, produced by the U.S. Commerce Department in cooperation with the Office of Management and Budget, holds the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 1995.

Buyers of the $30 disk, available in MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh formats, will be able to browse the budget as it appears in the presentation to Congress, thanks to inclusion of the Adobe Acrobat Reader program.

Disk versions can be ordered by calling 1-800-STAT-USA.

Both formatted and plain text versions also are available on the Internet, by using the Gopher program to connect to, or through the Economic Bulletin Board at (202) 482-3870 (2400 bps) or (202) 482-2167 (9600 bps). The reader is not included.

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