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How to: What you should know about the carriers

Dec 01, 20034 mins

Hank Levine, an attorney at Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, shares analysis of the carriers and advice on capturing extra savings through bill auditing.

Hank Levine, an attorney at Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, has helped large companies squeeze the carriers for years. Levine spoke recently with Network World Senior Editor Denise Pappalardo about what you need to know to negotiate the best telecom deal (see here). He also shared analysis of the carriers and advice on capturing extra savings through bill auditing.

Are there any particular carriers that you tell clients to avoid using?

We say you should look at each of them cautiously. But then we give them a commentary on each.

What’s your take on AT&T?

In terms of price, AT&T is usually a little higher than the rest. AT&T is noticeably more difficult to deal with than they were two to three years ago, but frankly AT&T is working on it. The carrier has tried to make contracts more user friendly and has improved key terms and offer better pricing.

MCI was the most difficult carrier to do business with before it went bankrupt. It is now, not. Particularly if you have a contract up for renewal, they are the only guys who have to act like a non-incumbent because of the bankruptcy. They have been much more flexible.

It’s easy to do an acceptable contract in a short period of time with Sprint. And their contracts are pretty good. The problem with Sprint is it tends to be thin. Unless they have a reason to believe they are not going to win a deal, they won’t devote a lot of resources to the bid process.

We do not recommend that people do business with Qwest. The carrier’s network is fine, but its contracts are horrific from a customer perspective in areas such as termination charges. And Qwest enforces its contracts in ways other carriers don’t dare. They take all of the bad stuff in the boilerplate to demand huge payments from customers in shortfall. Other carriers use that as a basis for negotiation.

Qwest is cutting back on or abandoning services such as Managed Exchange Services and its Cyber Centers. The KPNQwest joint venture collapsed and now Qwest doesn’t have a clear international strategy. It’s under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department. And the principal reason it’s not in bankruptcy, according to many analysts, is because it sold off its Yellow Pages business.

Do you recommend using a telecom bill-auditing firm?

Yes, if you want savings start with your bills. One of the biggest sources of telephone company savings in the short term for many people is collecting the 10% average error rate in carrier bills. Generally carriers only allow users to go back six months to a year to rectify billing errors. Users need to look at their contract to see how often they have to run this exercise. Make sure you have a year or two to find mistakes. And for those users that have an auditor on staff, they are auditing the bills every month.

What should you look for when hiring an auditor?

For most companies it is well worth it to have a really smart telco type on staff to review bills. If you choose to hire an established firm, bring in a company with a strong track record. Choose a firm with more analysts than sales people.

If the firm you select uses software to review your bills, be sure there is a human who also looks at those invoices because auditing software alone isn’t dependable enough. Also do not sign with a firm that wants 50% of your total credits for the year and 50% for potential credits next year. Most reputable auditing firms will take one-third or one-fourth of the savings they recover for the year’s invoices they are auditing.