Lose the Landline, Consider the Web

With federal regulations on how much phone companies can charge expected to end next year, there's a chance your home phone bill could go up.

AT&T's California customers recently saw the monthly rate for basic home phone service jump 20% to $16.45, up from the 23% increase last year.

And even if you're not ready to give up your landline home phone yet, it's smart to be prepared in case your home phone rates rise and you want to find something better.

Here are a few options for cutting your home phone bill:

Cell phone
This is probably the most common alternative people use. It can save users a few hundred dollars a year, although the connection isn't always as solid as a landline.

One way to keep your expenses limited with a cell phone plan is to buy a prepaid phone service. There are plenty of prepaid plans out there, so search around and find the best one that offers either the price you want for minutes, or one overall price for unlimited calling.

Web phone services
Internet services charge $3 a month or less, making the average national home phone bill of $40 look like robbery.

Skype costs $2.95 a month or $35 a year for unlimited calls to the United States and Canada. You'll need a working Internet connection and it should take only minutes to set up an account.

Skype has been reviewed as not a good way to go in replacing a traditional landline service, but supplanting it. Using a computer to talk with someone at another computer user is a great idea for travel, and can keep you in touch with loved ones abroad by being able to see them.

Vonage is $24.99 a month or $300 a year for unlimited calling in the United States. It works like a regular home phone after using an adapter to hook up to your home phone and a router or modem.

Vonage customers don't have to sign up for long-term contracts and can by by the month, although a $39.99 cancellation fee is imposed for discontinuing service within two years of signing up, according to a review of the service.

Two very big advantages of Vonage is you can keep your existing phone number, and if your Internet connection is disrupted or your power goes out, Vonage offers a feature to forward all of your calls to a landline or cell phone number.

Magic Jack connects your computer's USB port to your home phone for $39.95 for the device and a year of local and long distance calling. It's then $19.95 a year.

The Magic Jack is one of the cheapest ways to avoid handing a landline phone. International calls cost more money than the annual fee for calls in the U.S. and Canada, so if you're traveling outside of North America, you may want to look elsewhere.

Sorry, Ma Bell - it seems your days are numbered.
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