Real Deal Guide to Long Distance

There are three types of calls: local, local toll (a.k.a. local long distance) and long distance. A local call is to any place about 0-15 miles from your home. Local toll calls are roughly 16-40 miles away, or more. Any call beyond local toll—to another region of Illinois or to another state—is considered long distance.

Use AT&T’s free online tool to determine if a call is local, local toll or long distance. This guide covers calls beyond the 15-mile local region, which can be pricey. AT&T and Frontier charge up to 17 cents per minute for local toll calls, and long-distance rates vary wildly, from two cents per minute to 20 cents per minute or more.

Name That Call

Actual distances for local, local toll and long-distance calls may vary depending on the area of Illinois, but this graphic gives estimates. Other phone companies define calls similar to AT&T, the largest phone company in the state.

What Are Your Options?

Your local phone company
PRO: Convenient.
CON: Expensive. Unlimited plans are often not worth the price for typical consumers, who only make a few hundred minutes of long-distance calls per month. Other long-distance plans can cost 10 cents a minute or more—plus a monthly fee.

A third-party long-distance carrier
PRO: Inexpensive. Same call quality as a local phone.
CON: Separate bill. Monthly fees tend to inflate price.

Prepaid Calling Card
PRO: Low prices.
CON: Hidden fees. Inconvenience of dialing extra numbers.

PRO: Potentially free. Most consumers have plenty of extra cellphone minutes left over each month (if not unlimited minutes).
CON: Poorer call quality. Traditional cellphone plans can be pricey.

VoIP (Vonage, Ooma, MagicJack, etc)
PRO: Inexpensive (if you make a lot of long-distance calls).
CON: Call quality can suffer. Must have high-speed Internet. May not work during a power outage.

Internet Phone (Skype, Google Voice)
PRO: Free (or very cheap). Video calling capabilities.
CON: Must have high-speed Internet. May not work during a power outage.

Finding the Right Plan

When searching for the right long-distance deal, there are a few questions you need to ask your provider. Make sure you are aware of the rates and any monthly fees or per-call surcharges, whether the company requires online signup or billing, whether the plan covers local toll calls (if that’s something you use often), whether there is a higher rate for in-state long-distance calls, and if the company will pick up any switching charges you have to pay to your previous carrier.

For prepaid calling cards, find out if there are any restrictions, such as an expiration date or no in-state calls; if there is a way to recharge the card (and if so, a fee to do so); and whether the card charges a lower rate if you use a “local access number” compared with using a toll-free access number.

Below are examples of long-distance options:

Traditional long-distance
Pioneer Telephone. For AT&T local “Rate Buster” customers: 3.3-3.8¢/minute, $2.49/month regulatory fee. (subject to quarterly changes). $1.99/month fee if you choose paper billing AND make less than $20 of calls (fee waived if you choose online billing). Customers of other local phone companies may pay more. To sign up, call 1-800-808-9000. (Note: Automatic credit card payments for all NEW customers. After six months, customers can opt out and pay by check or automatic deductions through their checking account.]

Unless you have “slamming protection,” don’t call your local and/or long-distance company to switch. Call Pioneer and it will do the switch for you. Questions? Call CUB, at 1-800-669-5556.

ECG. 2.5-3.5¢/minute, $1.99 monthly fee, $2.99/month regulatory fee. Online billing only. To sign up, call 1-888-869-1141 or visit ECG’s website.

AT&T One Rate Nationwide Advantage. $5.99 per month with AT&T local only, 7¢ per minute for domestic direct-dialed long-distance. To sign up, call 1-800-288-2020, or visit AT&T’s website.

Prepaid Calling
AT&T Card (Sold by members-only Sam’s Club). Price varies. A 1500 minute card costs $49.98. To purchase a card, find your local Sam’s Club.

MagicJack Go. $35 One-time fee plus HSI and landline costs. To sign up, visit MagicJack’s website.

Internet phone
Google Voice. Must have Internet. One-time $20 fee to port your number. To sign up, visit the Google Voice website.

*Rates change often, so verify them with the company. Traditional long distance rates may vary outside of AT&T’s local phone territory. For more info, see the long-distance and international calculators on the Telecom page at