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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College removes long-distance fees

That the College has decided to give students, faculty and staff free long-distance calling might seem paradoxical in a time of persistent budget worries, but a new system that does just this will save both Dartmouth and Dartmouth students money in the end, according to officials in Network Services.

The new-sprung plan, which went into effect July 1, allows free long-distance service to all 50 U.S. states and Canada. Students wishing to make international calls through the College can arrange to have the service charged to a credit card.

This serves as a marked change to the old, now-defunct Dartalk system, in which students set up declining balance accounts for a pre-determined number of minutes or had calls charged to a credit card -- a system that caused Telephone Services a major headache when it came to billing, Telecommunications and Network Services director Bob Johnson said.

"We finally realized that it was costing us more to do the billing than it was to make the calls," Johnson said, noting that the labor cost of tracking down students who hadn't paid and marketing Dartalk far exceeded the amount the system brought in. In order to pay for the labor, the College would have been forced to over bill students.

Instead, Dartmouth is now providing long-distance telephone service free, like it does internet service, electricity and other utilities. The upside is money saved for both the College and for students. The downside: fewer staff employed in Telephone Services, although Johnson said positions would be eliminated through attrition, not layoffs.

The new plan is made financially feasible by recent shifts in the telephone industry toward flat-rate service to anywhere in the country, Johnson said. Prior to about five years ago, variable long-distance rates for calling different areas of the country would have made it risky and possibly very expensive to guarantee free service since the College never knew just how many calls it would be fielding -- and where to.

But the new flat rates have kept Dartmouth's telephone expenditures fairly constant in recent years and made it possible for Dartmouth to slowly phase out its current billing program, which cost $150,000 to install and requires $50,000 annual contributions to maintain.

The recently-implemented system has other, indirect savings as well, Johnson said. Under the old plan, College employees could make long distance calls from their offices -- but separating out personal calls from professional ones was unnecessarily time-consuming for administrators when it came time to balance the budget.

The free service is intended to make everyone's lives easier --and Johnson said he hopes students take advantage of it.

For now, long-distance minutes are unlimited.

"However, we do reserve the right to put reasonable limits on how much students can call," Johnson said. "You're students at a premier college -- you're not here to sit on the telephone talking to people all day. Still, we'd much rather give you the services we think you need and not have you have to think about whether you should call your mom or not."

But most students who spoke with The Dartmouth said they have yet to try the free service.

"For me, personally, I have a cell phone, and I get free long distance minutes with that," Evan McBeath '04 said.

Johnson said he expects the service to catch on eventually though, and to replace some of the campus cell phone use. Nevertheless, Telephone Services is working on integrating cell-phone service into the College's current PDX system. This summer, Dartmouth is in the process of looking for a major carrier -- possibly Sprint -- to provide service once the soon-to-be-built cell phone tower is constructed.

Another experimental plan, which the College is hoping to implement by fall term, would give students long distance through their lap-tops.

For now, though, it seems that most students are willing to stick out the poor cell phone service.

"Verizon's quality of service is certainly a negative, but setting up a landline requires too much effort," Lidia Barabash '05 said.