Citynet launches voice-over-Internet phone service
By George Hohmann for The Charleston Daily Mail Citynet says the voice-over-Internet residential phone service that it's set to launch today can cut many West Virginians' phone bills in half. The cost of Citynet's Digital Phone service is $24.95 a month, but customers must have high-speed Internet access to use it. James Martin, Citynet's president, said that when customers sign up for Digital Phone, an adapter and instructions will be sent to them within 48 hours. The adapter plugs into the customer's Internet access and the customer's phone plugs into the adapter. "They can begin making calls immediately," he said. The monthly Digital Phone fee includes unlimited local and long-distance calls, including Canada. "There's no set-up fee," Martin said. "We provide the adapter for free. There is no contract requirement." Citynet's Digital Phone is similar to the service offered by Vonage, which advertises heavily on television. However, "if you go to the Vonage Web site you cannot select West Virginia," Martin said. "National players for the most part are overlooking this state. We believe we're the first company to target the entire state of West Virginia for this digital phone product." FiberNet is one of several Citynet competitors that also offers voice-over-Internet phone service. But FiberNet President Virgil Parsons said his company has not been promoting it. "The service still generally has some issues that customers may not be totally ready to accept," Parsons said. "For instance, if the Internet goes down you're out of service. And you have to have your own broadband." Mike Minnis, director of public relations at nTelos Inc., said his company has offered voice-over-Internet phone service "for some time now, but ours is directed more toward business customers." Martin said Citynet's Digital Phone has enhanced features. "For example, the customer can schedule their phone to turn off at 9 o'clock at night," he said. "They can also have an incoming call ring their home phone, cell phone, vacation phone, car phone and office phone simultaneously if they like." "You can take the adapter we give you anywhere in the world and, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection, you can use it," Martin said. "If you vacation in Australia, you can take the adapter with you and you can make and receive local phone calls there. "We have software you can load onto your laptop and make your laptop a telephone," he said. "That's handy for business people. You can make the phone ring on your laptop as well as at your house." Customers can obtain a new phone number when they sign up for Citynet's Digital Phone or have their existing telephone number transferred to the new service. That takes 5 to 10 days, Martin said. Citynet rolled out the service on a limited basis earlier this year and already has about 500 Digital Phone customers in West Virginia, Martin said. "We did a quiet campaign next to our home office, to make sure we could support the service. Now that we've proven to ourselves that we can support the customer and that the technology is easy to follow, we're launching our statewide campaign." Citynet is headquartered in Bridgeport, where it is building a new 30,000-square-foot headquarters. The company has an office on Capitol Street. Citynet has about 80 employees, 22,000 residential customers and 2,000 business customers in West Virginia, Martin said.