From the December 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Think you're paying too much for your cellular phone service? If you live in Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco, you're probably right. Cellular phone rates in these three cities are the highest in the nation, with Los Angeles topping the chart: The average business user there racks up $120.69 in charges per month.

The reason? In addition to a high demand for service, these cities are built in very hilly areas, and, as a result, cell phone carriers had to build more wireless towers than carriers in, say, Philadelphia or Sacramento, says Charles Mahla of Econ One Research Inc., an economics research and consulting firm in Los Angeles. "The added expense to build and maintain these systems can, in part, explain the higher rates," he says.

But there's still hope. According to Econ One, cell phone companies across the country are starting to offer one-rate pricing, similar to the pricing plans of some long-distance carriers.


Contact him at 74203.1677@compuserve.com.

Call Me

Sure, if you're picking up the tab.

You've probably seen the ads for consumer collect-call services like 1-800-COLLECT. Maybe you've even wondered if a similar service is available for business users. Simply put, the answer is no.

According to Aric March, president and CEO of MHA Communications Inc. in Highland Park, Illinois, entrepreneurs who want to let their customers call them for free have two options. One is to offer a toll-free number. The only problem with that is, often customers can't remember your number if they're away from their offices. But there's another, increasingly popular way to get customers to call you directly at your expense: Provide them with a pre-paid calling card with your company's name and logo on it.

If the customer dials you, you keep their business. But even if they dial another party, the phone company can pro-vide you with a record of who they called, giving you interesting information for market research that could lead to the creation of new products by your company. And is this legal, you ask? The customer has acknowledged their consent simply by using the card. Remember, nothing in life is free.

Home Work

You got questions? We got answers.

Telecommuting is a dream for many employees. But it's a potential nightmare for some businesses. "Different employers have different needs," says Lewis Gardner, a labor law attorney at Greenberg Traurig in Tysons Corner, Virginia. "At smaller establishments, the guidelines may be looser and more informal than large businesses."

But whether you like it or not, statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that 17 million Americans telecommute to work. So what should you know as an employer?

One thing employers should definitely do is pay for dedicated phone lines (including high-speed Internet access lines), for at-home workers, says Bobby Patrick, vice president of strategy and product development for Digex Inc., a Web site developer in Beltsville, Maryland.

But work-at-home privileges should probably be reserved for only a certain group of employees, according to a recent report, How to Escape the 9 to 5 Rat Race, by the American Tele-commuters Association (ATA). Jobs that call for writing, research and analysis are the top candidates for telecommuting, along with computer programming and budgeting. For a copy of the report, contact the ATA at (312) 494-2697.

Survey Says . . .

Cell phone bills for high-volume users living in one of these cities might look something like this:

Los Angeles - $120.69

Boston - $117.32

San Francisco - $117.27

Miami - $112.30

Chicago - $111.65

Dallas - $111.40

Detroit - $111.04

New York City - $108.91

Houston - $107.38

Washington, DC - $102.61

San Diego - $101.94

Atlanta - $99.50

Sacramento - $97.88

Philadelphia - $93.58

Source: Econ One Research Inc.

Contact Sources

American Telecommuters Association, 601 S. LaSalle Bldg., PMB 8679, Chicago, IL 60605

Econ One Research Inc., crmahla@econone.com, http://www.econone.com

Greenberg Traurig, http://www.gtlaw.com

MHA Communications Inc., (800) 260-9642

Gene Koprowski has covered the tech industry for 10 years and writes a monthly computing column for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.