On the subject of Internet telephones (called VOIP or Voice Over Internet Protocol), I was contacted by Time Warner the other day and informed that the TW digital phone service was in fact now available in my area. So I have gone ahead and signed up.
I will report further when I do get the service, but from what I can determine over the phone, the installation goes something like this. They will replace your existing Road Runner modem with a new unit which functions in the same manner and to which you can attach an optional router if you wish - i.e. no change. (If you are not a Road Runner client, that is OK - they will just put in the new service.) But the modem also had an extra phone-type socket (what is called an RJ-11 jack) to which is plugged a normal phone cable. This cable is then plugged into any of your existing telephone connections. The service from your former telephone company is then disconnected at the outside of the house and apparently a box or label is affixed to let the phone company know in the future that this change has been made.
Your current local phone number will be transferred to the new service if you wish. Your current long distance service will be terminated, as the new TW service includes all local and long distance calls (at least, within the US and Canada) for one flat fee.
My only issue right now is that I am having some intermittent signal problems with my cable connection. The first time the service technician was here, he just left a note saying that the problem was in the system and not at my house, and that it would be repaired soon. Things did seem to get better, but have gotten worse again. The tech should be back here tomorrow to try again. But if I can't get this resolved, I may hold off on the phone installation.
If you do not choose to use Time Warner as your digital telephone provider, there are other companies that provide similar coverage. One reader wrote in to say that he uses a service called Lingo (www.lingo.com) and is very happy with it. I went to look at their website, but I was disappointed as it attempted to set many cookies on my PC. Check it out if you wish to see some comparative prices. Probably the leader in the field is Vonage (www.vonage.com), and there are a few others. A Google search on "VOIP" will yield a lot of information on the general subject, and vendors who provide the service.
I like the TW offering because call times and duration are unlimited, they do not charge for installation, the bill is bundled with my monthly cable bill (less bills to pay each month - yeah!), there is no charge for the upgraded modem, and there is no long term contract to sign. And for service, you are dealing with local people.
There is a downside to digital phone via cable: however. 911 and extended 911 (E911) service is included, but this may be different than the service that the phone company provides. The system is not emergency powered and thus if there is a power failure in your home or somewhere in the network, you lose your phone service. Cell phones can always be used as a backup, but they are not emergency powered either. This is just something you need to be aware of, and they do explain this in depth when you call to order or inquire about the service.
So, we'll see how it all works in a few weeks - you can count on an unbiased report. Just for the record, I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with Time Warner Cable.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)