In 1984 American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) lost its monopoly in the phone market and was partially split up into many regional companies, the so-called ‘Baby Bells’. These companies compete against each other and against long-distance carriers, smaller payphone, cell phone and internet phone companies. AT&T remains the market leader for long-distance calls, followed by MCI Worldcom and Sprint.
Most phone calls are charged by the minute, and every company offers their own calling plans and deals. There are three types of calls within America: local calls, in-state calls (i.e. within your state) and inter-state calls (to other states).
For local calls, most companies offer a flat fee, meaning that you can call for as many minutes as you want. Rates for in-state, inter-state and international calls can vary considerably between different companies. There are different rates for various times of the day, and you’ll normally get a 20-30% discount during calls from 5pm to 11pm during the week and a 40-60% discount from 11pm to 8am and on Saturdays and Sundays. Although the exact prices depend on the state, company and calling plan, most plans divide the week up this way.
In general, calling rates in the US are pretty low compared with other countries. In some states, there are special reduced rates for people on low incomes and the elderly.
There is also a wide range of extra phone services available, such as when you’re on vacation for at least one month, when you can ask your phone company to temporarily suspend the line. See our article on getting a phone line for further information.