Global fax service has a deal for you

MULTIMEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS

March 02, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

The multimedia and communications column in yesterday's editions listed an incorrect telephone number for International Discount Telecommunications. The correct number is (201) 928-1000.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Howard Jonas wants to give you a free fax machine.

Not a junker, not some cheap knockoff, but a new, brand-name fax machine. Worth about $379 retail. To keep.

There is, of course, a catch.

Mr. Jonas is president of International Discount Telecommunications in Hackensack, N.J., an upstart international long-distance phone company with visions of playing David to American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s Goliath.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The maverick executive says he will give away fax machines to anyone who will sign up for the company's new international fax service and commit to send $500 worth of international fax calls over the next two years.

Mr. Jonas says he is confident he can make money by giving away expensive electronic equipment. Once companies get used to spending 30 percent to 60 percent less doing their international faxing through IDT, they'll be spending an average of $200 to $300 a month on the service, he predicts.

"We want the machines to keep working because the more faxes people send, we're making money by the minute," he said.

IDT is free to jump into the international fax business because, unlike international voice calls, fax is an unregulated service. Mr. Jonas says he is able to charge less because his company has developed signal-compression technologies that let it use its leased lines with greater efficiencies than the major companies can achieve on their own international networks.

Mr. Jonas minces no words when it comes to his chief competitor, AT&T, whose profits he has his eyes on. "Now we're going to teach AT&T a lesson. We're not going to give them Mickey Mouse competition like MCI and Sprint."

The enmity between IDT and AT&T goes back to IDT's original business, international call-back service that lets overseas companies take advantage of lower U.S. calling rates. What IDT does is provide a U.S. number that the overseas customer calls for service. The call never connects, but the IDT software recognizes that a call took place and generates a call back to the caller, providing a U.S. dial tone at a rate much cheaper than the overseas carriers charge.

Charlie Meyers, an AT&T regulatory policy specialist, said his company objects strongly to this activity, charging that these call-back companies make use of its phone lines without compensation. The giant company incurred IDT's wrath by asking the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on such providers.

The IDT-AT&T dispute has led to articles in Business Week, Newsweek and Forbes, but so far the FCC has not acted decisively to either stop or OK these services.

So for now Mr. Jonas is forging ahead with his plans to chisel away at the major U.S. carriers' most lucrative markets.

"When I say we're willing to go after Sprint or AT&T, even to myself it sounds ridiculous," Mr. Jonas admits.

While any "free" offer should be met with skepticism, Mr. Jonas promises there will be enough fax machines for all. He said that his company had put away $400,000 for the promotion and that there's more where that came from.

So if you do a lot of international faxing, you might just want to call his bluff. IDT's phone number is (201) 926-1000 and its fax number is (201) 928-1057. While you're on, ask about IDT's offer of a full day's free faxing to Britain. They might even give you the fax number of Buckingham Palace.

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