Why pay $600-$840 per year for unlimited local and long distance service from Verizon when you can get the same from Skype for only $29.95 per year? Skype enables consumers with a broadband Internet connection to make phone calls through their computers using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. If you'd like to try it, you can download Skype and call other Skype users anywhere in the world for free.
Calling cards are a great alternative to the over-priced long distance plans being offered by the major carriers, and 99 Cents Only just might be the best. For 99 cents, you receive 99 minutes of long distance air-time. Unlike traditional long distance providers, no long-term commitment is required, and there are no set-up or cancellation fees. Find a store that sells 99 Cents Only phone cards near you.
Just a year or two ago, consumers were paying premiums of thousands of dollars and ignoring desired options to simply purchase a hybrid car. Today, manufacturers of fuel-efficient hybrid cars are giving big incentives, including low-interest financing options and price discounts, to sell the hybrids. Coupled with federal tax incentives, if you've been interested in better insulating yourself from fluctuating gas prices by buying a hybrid, the time might be right.
To illustrate, after six years of tremendous sales growth for the Toyota Prius, sales of that hybrid actually dropped by about 1,000 cars to 106,971 (280,000 worldwide).
Consumers should be aware that tax credits could be affected by changing EPA mileage ratings.
"The Environmental Protection Agency's mileage ratings for all cars have been recalculated to reflect a variety of driving conditions. Ratings on many vehicles are set to fall by about 10 to 25 percent, while those for hybrid-electric vehicles will drop the most, by about 30 percent."
Whether these kinds of incentives will continue will most certainly depend on inherently undependable gas prices.
In the past two years the cost of directory assistance has skyrocketed. Telephone companies are charging their customers unreasonable fees. The cost of directory assistance from wireless carriers now ranges from $1.50-$1.79 plus airtime minutes. Long distance providers are even worse, charging customers from $2.00-$3.50 per call. Thankfully, there are some real alternatives available that should ensure consumers never pay for directory assistance again.
Free411 offers free nationwide directory assistance for busisness, government, and residential listings. Yes, free. The service is supported by short advertisments (around 12 seconds). Most ads are related to your directory request. For example, if you ask for a Dominoes listing, you might hear a Pappa Johns ad. There are some exceptions, you may have to listen to an ad before being connected to an operater. On the whole, the service runs fast and smooth. If the automated operator cannot fulfill/understand your request, a human operator is on the line right away. There is an added bonus at the end. You can have the number you requested text messaged to your phone. Free411 does not charge any additional fee for this service, however, your carrier's SMS charges still apply. Free411 also offers free directory assistance through its website, so check 'em out.
411Save is another great free directory assistance provider. Like Free411, 411Save is supported by advertisements (10-15 seconds). At this time 411Save only provides business listings, but the service is quick and easy and promptly connects you with a human operator if there is trouble with the automated system. Users also have the option to recieve their listing via text message at no additional charge. 411Save gives consumers a superior alternative to the major carriers' directory assistance services.
Google SMS allows users to access the Google search engine via text message. There is no additional fee for using Google SMS, and you don't need an Internet subscription package. However, standard text messaging fees apply (usually $0.10-$0.15 depending on your plan). Google SMS gives you the capabilities of directory assistance ...on steroids. You can also get up-to-date info on weather, sports scores, driving directions, price comparisons (Froogle), stock quotes, and a lot more. Here's an example of how it works:
Create a new text message and enter "46645" (the numeric equivelant of GOOGL) as the number you will send to. In the text area add: "pizza 92103"
Within a few seconds, you will receive 1-3 text message(s) (depending on the number of results). They look like this:
Bronx Pizza Inc
111 Washington St
San Diego, 92103
Papa John's Pizza: Hillcrest-Uptown
1280 University Ave
San Diego, 92103
You follow the same procedure for other types of searches. Here are some example queries: Search for stores: best buy san diego. Find movie showtimes: braveheart 92101. Get weather forcasts: weather san diego. Get directions: from petco park to 3100 fifth san diego. And sports scores: pittsburgh steelers
One year ago, President Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Folded into this bill was legislation setting a date certain for the death of analog TV. That date is February 17, 2009, 27 days after the President leaves office. The relatively little known provision will likely affect a broad range of consumers, as broadcasters switch off their analog signals in favor of the new digital standard. In short, for each traditional TV you have, ie. those that are not HDTV or even Digital Television capable, the TV will no longer work with a signal from your cable box, satellite receiver, or even your roof antenna or rabbit ears.
In 2006, it was estimated that "45 million televisions in 20 million households" depended on analog signals through antennas alone and would be affected by the changing standard.
Is there anyway to use my old TV?
Besides shelling out bucks for a new TV, there will also be set-top converter boxes available, starting in 2008, for approximately $50 that will modify the new signal for use on your analog tv. Some analysts suspect local cable and satellite tv providers will offer converters to customers, but it is not clear yet at what additional cost. Those who use antennas will simply have to get converter boxes for the TVs they wish to use.
Any assistance for those in need?
There will also be a program to offer $40 coupons to qualifying consumers to help defray the cost of the switch to the digital standard. The FCC says the following:
"Beginning in 2008, your household may be able to obtain up to two coupons worth $40 each toward the purchase of converter boxes. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has responsibility for administering the coupon program, and will issue rules regarding the coupons in the future. Additional information can be found at www.ntia.doc.gov. "
Keep an eye out for this coupon program and take advantage if you qualify.
There are sound arguments out there that the change to digital from analog is not getting proper attention from the federal government, especially in the form of consumer education. This is reflected in a recent poll by the Association of Public Television Stations, which finds that more than 61% "of the more than 21 million U.S. households that receive their television signals over the air are still unaware of the digital TV transition."
So get prepared!
Also see this recent article by Philip Swann for more discussion of how the administration is dropping the ball on the switch to digital.
For whom the water bill flows... Some answers as to where increased water & sewer rates will be used by the City of San Diego
This article from voiceofsandiego.com is an example of why this process is far too short for proper analysis of the proposed water & sewer rate increases. The article explains how about $1 in every $7 of rate increase will be going to the City's crippling pension and retiree health care, not to infrastructure repair and improvement. A February 27th final date for deciding rate increases is simply not enough time to ensure that these rate increases don't unfairly burden certain ratepayers versus others.
If you are a property owner or City of San Diego water & sewer customer, make sure you've filed a protest by clicking here.
According to voiceofsandiego,
"Mayor Jerry Sanders pledged during his 2005 run for office that he would not raise taxes to pay down the pension and retirement healthcare deficits that continue to strain city budgets. But a portion of the hikes to residents' water and sewer bills -- billed as needed funds for legally required repairs to both systems -- will be used to help pay down those mounting pension and health care costs. "
"More than 14 percent of the added service costs that Sanders is proposing for the next four years for water customers will go to paying pension and retirement healthcare costs, according to a voiceofsandiego.org analysis of city data. The review also showed that 15 percent of the sewer fee hike will be going to those retirement costs."
UPDATE February 6: Check out UCAN's analysis of the impact of the water & sewer increases. Residential customers carry load, and increases are over 12% for the average residential user, rather than the 6.5% the city claimed. Commercial customers have only just over 2% increase in the first year, and new construction actually gets a decrease!