The Telephone, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Public Services I
The Telephone

The Telephone
America Lives on the Telephone. Telephone numbers in the United States are ten digits long. The first three digits are the area code. In written or printed telephone numbers, area codes are often placed within parentheses like this: (212) 555-1234. Each area code will serve a few million people. This might be an entire state or just part of a large city like New York or Los Angeles. If you are dialing a number in the same area code as the telephone you are using, you do not have to use the area code in some regions, but you do in certain others. If you are dialing a number in another area code, you almost always need to dial the number “1” first. Check with the local telephone company or a knowledgeable local resident. If you are calling to or from a cellular telephone, you must always dial the “1” and the full ten-digit number with area code.

The Home Telephone. Once you have an established home or apartment, you can get your own telephone service relatively easily in the United States. You'll have to call the local telephone company or other provider, like a cable television company, and make an appointment for them to come into your home to install the phone lines. They will want certain information from you: where you work and whether or not you have had a telephone before. You'll probably have to stay home all day on the day your phone is installed, since the telephone company will not tell you exactly when their installer will arrive. They will also often ask for a deposit--perhaps $100--if you have no previous history of telephone bill payments. Most telephone companies will refund your deposit after a year or so if your on-time payment record is good.

Buying a Phone. Phones were once rented from the telephone company. Now they are so inexpensive that it is often cheaper to buy your telephone from an appliance, discount or reputable department store. If the phone breaks, it might be less expensive to replace it, rather than repair it. If you like Mickey Mouse or Snoopy, you can get him in a telephone. You can get a telephone shaped like a woman's high heel shoe. You can get a clear plastic telephone if you like seeing the electronic parts. You can even buy a telephone shaped like a duck that quacks instead of rings. Hundreds of types of telephones are available.

Telephone Options. A useful option in a telephone is the ability to program in certain commonly used numbers so you only have to push a button to dial the number. The cordless telephone, which allows you to carry the phone all over the house and sometimes a short distance away from the house, is also handy and relatively inexpensive. You can also buy “hands-free” or speaker telephones.

Services Available. The various telephone companies and their competitors, like cable TV companies, offer different billing procedures and services. You can be sure, however, that when you order a telephone installed they'll try to sell you services you don't need. Common extra services are call waiting (which lets you receive a call while you're already talking on the telephone) and call forwarding (which lets you automatically send calls coming to your telephone to another telephone number). Speed dialing allows you to dial certain numbers by just pressing two numbers on the telephone, but why pay for this on a monthly basis when you can buy an inexpensive telephone that allows you to program in frequently called numbers so you can dial them by pushing a button. Some local telephone companies offer a service called “Caller ID” which allows you to see on a small screen the number of the person calling you.

Installation Fees. When you begin home telephone service, you'll receive a one time fee on your first bill for installation, then you'll be charged per call. Pay your telephone and electric bills promptly, since these utilities are quick to discontinue your service if you are slow paying. They also might charge late fees and send in negative information to credit rating bureaus.

Off-Peak Calling. Bear in mind that calls, both local and long distance, are sometimes less expensive at certain hours at night, and on weekends. You'll have to find out from your particular local and long distance telephone company or other telephone provider just what these discount schedules are so you can save money.


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