Business calling data removed from PSC Web site

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But rate info does not reflect negotiated arrangements
A Web site introduced in November of 1999 by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to offer interactive tools to help small business and consumers see what various long-distance calling plans would cost given their calling patterns has removed business data to focus strictly on consumer information.
According to sources at the PSC and SALESTAR, the San Francisco firm that developed the site pro bono, the amount of work necessary to maintain the portion of the site that focused on business plans was behind the decision.
Christopher Larson, who oversees the Wisconsin Webpricer site, indicated that keeping the business-related functionality up and running was not a high priority. Businesses would also expect information on Web connectivity and other telecommunications services, he said. And that would be way too much to ask of SALESTAR, whose main line of business is collection and dissemination of pricing information in the telecom industry. The firm acts rather like the K-Mart Secret Shopper, collecting pricing information and sharing it with provider customers.
“We became aware of them through a service they provided on a nationwide basis for TRAC — Telecommunications Research and Action Center — a nonprofit,” Larson said of SALESTAR. “On TRAC’s Web site, there is a similar service provided for interstate calling. SALESTAR provided this as a free service to TRAC. We asked SALESTAR if they would provide a similar service for Wisconsin intrastate and interlata calls free of charge, and they agreed to do that.”
As this story was written, the Web site – at — was not functioning. That is unusual, according to Larson.
“It has been fully functional,” Larson said. “They have got to make modifications to update it. In the course of those modifications things happen, I guess. We are working with another company to provide this, so we have to be patient.”
The current problems with the remaining functions of the site are due to a transfer to a new hosting company, according to Kimberly Sierk of SALESTAR. Sierk added that after the company dropped the business data from the site, they never received a request from the PSC to reinstate it.
According to Sierk, the business information “was up and running, and then we made a business decision that we were unable to support both. The original scope of the project was residential information. We went back to the original format of just having residential.”
The decision to yank the business data came about six months ago, according to Sierk, who indicated SALESTAR did not have a way to determine how much traffic the business rate part of the site received.
Would SALESTAR put the business rate information back up? That depends on whether the company locates a paying user for the information. Then the information could also be made available through the free site.
“Currently, for our other products, we don’t have any viable customers who are asking for that,” Sierk said. “But if we were to do it specifically for the Wisconsin WebPricer — I have not heard anything from the PSC that they are requesting that.”
Some information, help available
The site initially allowed small business managers to enter their phone numbers into a Web form along with a list of phone numbers called and other information from their phone bills. The site used the data to determine what the calls would cost with various plans.
The loss of the business part of the site may not be significant as, according to a Milwaukee-based telecommunications consultant, the published rates may differ from those that businesses can negotiate with their providers – particularly larger users who spend more than $250,000 annually on calling services.
Calibre Communications vice president of sales and marketing Michael O’Connor said, however, that given the current business climate, negotiating with providers has gotten tougher.
“With the way the economy is going, with Global Crossing going Chapter 11 and companies losing their shirt by overestimating demand for long-haul fiber, many of them are very reticent to redo deals,” O’Connor said.
The key to successful negotiation, whether a firm works with a consultant like Calibre Communications or goes it alone, is quality information, according to O’Connor.
“From our perspective, it is important to have actual contractual proof of what a provider has done,” O’Connor said. “For this cost for these services, the net component costs are X. It’s all about calls placed and received. You can put these services into some basic buckets; interstate, intrastate, 800 service, outbound, calling card and data transfer – which is measured in terms of frame relay. If you can get your hands on that kind of a contract, you can change the way you engage with your vendor. You are able to benchmark and make sure you are still close to where the market is.”
April 26, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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