It's mid-February, the perfect time to ax 35% off the office phone bill.

If this current fiscal mess has any sort of happy ending -- or happy middle, since we're nowhere near the end of this nonsense -- it's that there are at least some parts of our economy that still actually work. Internet, cable and phone-service providers like


(VZ) - Get Report



(T) - Get Report


Cox Communications


Time Warner


don't seem to need government aid to work with small businesses.

Not only are networking companies eager to deal with us little people, they're downright aggressive right now. Little ol' me managed to get big ol' Verizon -- I use the excellent FIOS product in my business -- to slash a full third from my bill.

There's no reason you can't save too -- if you carry the right hammers.

Get the vendor on the phone and dicker:

Sit down with your phone bills. Figure out the total minutes you use and your charges. (Yes, phone companies make what they charge disgracefully complex, but to be fair they also offer excellent paper and online billing information. So, with a bit of tinkering, even the most complex bills become clear.) Then, call the company, get a rep on the phone and start whining about what you pay. Carriers are facing unprecedented competition these days. And they're willing to give you a healthy discount to lock you in as a long-term customer. I killed my old land-lined package and got a 60% reduction. All I did was ask.

Kill the plan but not the planner:

Great, you have leverage. But don't get stupid. You're trying to do away with pricey services you don't need, but not cut so deep that you incur fresh penalties. Look for telco junk: "*69," the auto-callback feature from years gone by. Who needs to call a caller back? They just called. And "unlimited nights and weekends"? Like that matters for a small business that's closed at night?

But don't just get the cheapest plan. Penalties are steep if you stray from, say, metered usage on a phone. I faced a 20-cent-a-minute charge for local calls on my basic fax line. Listen carefully to the reps, write down the options and compare them to your actual bill. And then pick a reasonable package that gives you reasonable savings. Just remember to give yourself room for error on your phone usage.

Downgrade voice, upgrade data:

Here's the magic sauce of the digital age. To make up for falling phone-line revenue, telecom companies are pushing faster Web access. That puts, lucky you, right in the middle of a speed war. DSL service from a phone company downloads at 1.5 megabits per second, far from the fastest. Cable routinely touches 7 megabits, if not higher. And, better yet, these faster data plans come bundled with voice products. So the savings can be remarkable.

I went from paying $125 a month for two phone lines and Web access that let me download at 10 megabits a second and upload at 2 megabits to $75 for the same lines and, get ready for this, 20-megabit speeds for downloads


uploads. What's not to love?

Follow up:

After you give yourself a victory lap for taking down the phone company for a ton of money, calm down and be smart. The telecom industry, despite 25 years of deregulation, is still a shameless game of bait-and-switch. You never know what you spend until you spend it. So it's critical to check your bill: If the figures don't add up, get back on the phone and fix it. You usually have 30 days to straighten things out without a penalty. Remember that phone companies want your business; you have leverage even if you got suckered into the wrong plan.

Bottom line:

Times are tight. There's no reason not to be tight with your phone bill. Trust me, you'll need the money.

Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.