- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NEW YORK
Baby boomers grew up watching their parents pay the bills: phone, gas, electricity, mortgage, probably a car and credit cards. Now that boomers are heads of households, they find their stacks of bills significantly larger, thanks to cable TV, Internet access and cell phones, plus separate local and long-distance calling plans.
The number of monthly statements has burgeoned in recent years because of the pervasiveness of technology and because deregulation in the telecommunications industry has introduced hundreds of new service providers into the consumer landscape.
That affects anyone who uses multiple means of staying connected, particularly baby boomers. Many Americans ages 38 to 56 pay for such proliferating services for themselves and often for teen-age children or small businesses as well.
For herself, her husband and her partner in her small public relations firm in Arlington, Robin Buckley, 40, has to pay 11 separate phone bills each month.
"I thought the Telecom Act was supposed to make bundling services easier so much for that theory," she said. "I would definitely prefer to have one bill."
For people who see all these bills as a time-wasting hassle even if they can pay some online the good news is that telecommunications companies increasingly are lumping together or "bundling" services.
The caveat, though, is that telecommunications companies have been trying this for years and it isn't always seamless for them or a good enough deal for consumers. AT&T; spun off its wireless and cable-TV divisions after realizing that most people don't care about having one all-purpose telecommunications bill.
"As soon as somebody can save $5, they'll take a bill," said Matt Coffin, founder of LowerMyBills.com, which helps people hunt for bargains.
Still, bundled services are on the rise largely because of tougher competition: Providers of local phone service are breaking into the long-distance business and long-distance players are selling local service. Many players in both categories also offer wireless phone service and Web access as well.
Cable-TV companies also offer one-stop shopping with high-speed Internet access and local phone service in some areas.
"I think the act of putting your eggs in one basket is not as risky as it used to be," said Phil Jacobson, a telecommunications consultant for Network Conceptions LLC in Vienna, Va. "It used to mean encountering some service problems."
Many new packages promise discounts on the cost of buying the services a la carte. However, a study over the summer by Horowitz Associates Inc., a communications market research firm in Larchmont, N.Y., found that half of consumers would be willing to buy bundled phone services even if the plans wouldn't save them any money.
Other services get around bills altogether by offering prepaid plans that let customers buy a chunk of wireless airtime or long-distance minutes and refill them whenever they want. TracFone Wireless Inc., which targets seniors and families with children, sells phones that display the minutes remaining before a customer has to refill.
When Meg Taylor, 42, of San Jose, Calif., was pregnant two years ago, she and her husband, Art, decided to simplify their lives before the big event by cutting down their five separate phone-related bills.
"Checking the details of bills, paying and filing them, and plowing through mailers from numerous vendors was overwhelming," she said. "As older parents, we've got to conserve as much energy as we can."
She turned two cell-phone bills into one by signing up for a "family" wireless plan from Verizon. Then she vaporized two more by getting local phone and Internet service from AT&T;, which also provides the Taylors' long-distance calling.
Keeping billing simple is so important to Mrs. Taylor that she has turned down a money-saving pitch from AT&T; Wireless because it would have meant that she and her husband again would have had separate mobile bills.
"When my daughter eventually replaces her pull-toy phone with a real one," Mrs. Taylor said, "you can bet I'll be looking for the easiest way to deal with billing."

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