Free phone service

FRESNO, Calif.

Since Carl Ellyn switched his family's phone service, he saves more than $700 a year on his phone bill. "The cost savings, you can't beat. The call quality is better than what we were getting on any of the other services."

Carl and his family make domestic calls free, through the internet, using a device called Ooma. This oddly named device is a top-rated phone service in consumer reports latest survey of phone services. It also got high ratings for value, despite having to pay at least $200 for the hardware.

"It's a little bit pricey, but you don't need a computer like you do with some other, alternative phone services," Paul Reynolds said.

Along with the free unlimited domestic calls and cheap international rates, you get call waiting and caller ID. But you still do have to pay some taxes and government fees. They total around $3.50 a month.

Consumer Reports tester Bernie Deitrick checked out Ooma. He had it up and running in less than 15 minutes, including the time it took to register online and connect it to the internet.

"In Consumer Reports' survey, Ooma's reliability and voice quality compared well with most cable-company phone services. Its rivals, Skype and Magicjack, both scored below par on those two measures," Reynolds said.

Ooma works with your existing phone, or you can buy an Ooma handset for $50.

"Also be aware if you want to use the phone number you have now, there's an extra $40 charge."

But all in all, the Ellyn family finds Ooma to be quite a bargain, despite the fairly steep investment in hardware to get it dialed in.

If your phone service is currently bundled with your internet and television service, before dropping it check with your provider to see what the bill will be. What you're paying for the remaining two services may increase - limiting the savings you can expect.

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