In a world where each topic is accompanied by a rabbit hole of knowledge, it is a wonder we keep things straight. Sometimes it seems like the simple information which should be common knowledge is lost in the shuffle.The topic of audio conferencing costs is a great example. It is full of regulation, special bundles and technical jargon. So, before you get started on buying, replacing, or just sorting out your latest audio conferencing bill, here is what you need to know.
1) Toll calling and Toll Free are very different
Toll Free calling means, free to your participants. You will provide a toll free (800 or 888, etc.) number and pay for participants joining your call. Typically you will have some type of contract with your carrier that spells out exactly what rate you pay. If you don’t have it handy, your carrier or reseller should be able to provide a copy without any fuss. What you pay for should ALWAYS be transparent.
A toll number, similar to toll free, is also provided by you as an accommodation to the attendee and comes in the form of a local access number. This rate will be lower than Toll Free, because your carrier doesn’t have to factor in long distance charges. Your attendee, depending on their location and carrier, may have to pay a long distance surcharge themselves. Hence the phrase, “long distance rates may apply”.
2) International Toll Free is more expensive than Domestic- by a long shot.
We know that’s hard to hear, but it’s important to know. We live in a global society with a variety of infrastructures that don’t always interface the way we would like them to. International Toll is similar to what we already learned about Domestic Toll. The person providing the conference bridge line pays the local and long-distance charges but now we combine those costs with international infrastructure. The costs add up AND are not almost never consistent from one country to another. Here is an example:
The cost per minute of an international Toll Free dial-in from London is going to be far less expensive than that of a developing nation. In fact, the cost of an international number can be as low as 2X that of your domestic toll-free to as high as 15X the cost. Just like we suggested above, check your contract to see what each region costs for the international local dial-in number. If you provide an international toll-free call with regional numbers, you could be in for a surprise.
3) Reservation Style vs. Reservation-less.
Most limitations in the technology world can find themselves rooted in some device sitting on a server rack. The growing popularity for audio conference bridges is to use a reservation-less bridge, whereby an actual attendant is not required to usher people in and out of the call. The domestic and international toll-free bridge costs outlined above fall into the reservation-less category. Many times the limit on these bridges is 300 participants, which directly aligns to a piece of networking hardware sitting in the carrier’s infrastructure. When you are going to go over 300 people on a bridge or need some form of moderation, you move into the reservation style bridge world which will incur additional base fees and rates that are several fold the cost of a reservation-less bridge. Sometimes people call this a moderated conference. If you are using this type of bridge for a large webcast, remember that most webcast technologies deliver in streaming audio or VoIP, which is reflective of the type of voice interaction you expect with your attendees. As a result, it is actually much less expensive to deliver the webcast alone and bypass any audio conference technology.
4) Other charges will apply
It’s true. Just like booking a hotel room or airfare. Like many industries that are federally governed and regulated, there are additional fees that seem to creep into the bill. It is usual and customary in the industry to just speak of rate. This is similar to a daily car rental fee or a nightly room rate. However, when you settle at the counter, you find out that your bill inflated and there really isn’t anything you can do about it but budget for this in the future. When it comes to audio bridges you will automatically get a Universal Service Fund (USF) fee mandated by the FCC, a Telecom Fee, and Taxes applied to the overall bill. The amounts are a percentage of your invoice. So, if you rack up a huge international toll-free or reservation style bridge, you may be surprised by the number. Now, this is not to say that the value is not there. In fact the ROI of the event may be astronomical. However, it is good to know these things going in.
5) Every carrier is different
Carriers vary by price, quality and customer service. Although an audio conference carrier has technology, they are not the technology companies of today. Many of them are going through a metamorphosis of sorts and it is not complete. Carriers have been based on physical lines, inter-carrier relationships, and pennies per minute billing that makes them the “Mad Men” of the technology world. As a result, each carrier is their own kettle of fish and finding out who is delivering a high quality product and supporting their customers is key. Many times, this is why going through a reseller who vets out these issues is a good idea. Audio is very similar to webcasts, when they go well, nobody notices. When they have a hiccup, the sky just fell. Most people will go first on price and my recommendation is to head down the road of quality and service, then look at item 6 next.
6) You will get better rates for volume and term
Once you have found a great carrier and reseller, know that you have two very important things going for you, First, it is a competitive landscape and they want your business. Secondly, if you can commit to volume and/or term, then they can lock in their costs and reward you in discounts. It is really that simple. Just remember, if the carrier and reseller are not quality, then any discounts you receive in the near-term will ring of shallow consolation for your suffering.
Frank Rogers is a Senior Strategist and Consultant with InteSolv
Adventurer – Change Agent – Conversionologist – Know-er of cool things