- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A New Jersey telecommunications company today is scheduled to debut a prepaid wireless service tailored to U.S. Hispanics.

With low rates to Latin America, TuYo Mobile targets Hispanics keeping in touch with relatives back home as well as immigrants who need a phone number to give prospective employers, according to IDT, a Newark, N.J., telecommunications provider. It will be offered in several cities, including Washington.

“Keeping in touch is absolutely vital for immigrants who can’t travel home,” said Kim Propeack, director of advocacy and organization for CASA de Maryland, a Hispanic community group based in Takoma Park. “There are immigrants whose only manner of communicating with their children is by telephone.”

TuYo — which means “yours” in Spanish — will offer bilingual customer service in addition to music, ring tones and graphics specific to each Latin American region.

“We have a huge reputation among Hispanic Americans and we have been thinking of ways to expand our service offerings to this community,” said Jim Courter, chief executive officer of IDT, which currently sells 350 million long-distance calling cards each year.

Seventy percent of the 42 million U.S. Hispanics use calling cards to phone relatives in Latin America, he added.

“We basically allowed Hispanics to call internationally at rates that Americans are used to calling long distance within the country,” he said. “For much less than the price of a meal at McDonald’s, you could spend 40 minutes on the telephone talking to your family in the Dominican Republic.”

TuYo Mobile advertises per-minute rates as low as 2 cents to Mexico, 10 cents to El Salvador, 2 cents to Brazil and 6 cents to the Dominican Republic, among other countries.

Under the Sprint 50 at Home with International Savings plan, Sprint Nextel Corp. — which ranks five places above IDT as the largest U.S. diversified communications company by market share — charges 8 to 19 cents per minute to parts of Mexico, 29 cents to El Salvador, 19 cents to Brazil and 19 cents to the Dominican Republic.

IDT can afford such rates because the company owns its international network, which it leases as a wholesale provider to other U.S. and international carriers, said Rob Schwartz, vice president of IDT Telecom and president of TuYo Mobile.

John Hall, vice president of public affairs at CTIA, a trade association of wireless providers, said marketing to niche groups is becoming more common.

“If you can capture enough of that niche market, then you can carve out a pretty good spot for yourself,” Mr. Hall said.

Unlike many “pay-as-you-go” wireless services, TuYo does not require users to sign a contract or undergo a credit check.

Users buy a phone — IDT offers handsets from Nokia and Motorola — and then activate it. Phones come with a starter balance that users can add to by purchasing “top-off” cards in increments of $10, $20 and $50. The cards also can be used as long-distance calling cards.

“This way, you always know exactly what you’re spending,” Mr. Schwartz said. Wireless services are prepaid throughout Latin America, he added. “It’s the way in which Latinos are used to buying the product.”

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