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Charter Adds International Calls

Charter Communications has launched an international calling plan for customers, allowing its phone users up to 250 minutes of international calling per month for $20 on top of a $29.99 base plan.

The calling plan includes 200 countries. Thirty-three countries are excluded, including Antarctica, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea. Ted Schremp, Charter Telephone senior vice president and general manager said the exclusions are due to the high cost of connections. Unlike international plans from traditional phone companies, this plan does not utilize country-based pricing or prepaid calling cards. But country-based pricing will be charged for calls that go over the minutes in the package, he said.

Schremp said a survey of customers indicated that a fair amount of potential customers purchase international calling cards each month. They like being able to budget for their calls by buying a bucket of time, from which they subtract some minutes each month. But they dislike the fact that some calling cards are scams, diminishing the actual calling time by charging connection fees and employing such strategies as starting the countdown clock on the card as soon as the connection is initiated, rather than when the recipient picks up the phone.

The plan will only connect to landline phones. The executive explained the international cell phone market is very different from that of the United States. In other countries, the calling party pays for call and charges can be very high for the initiating party.

“We couldn't make it work,” he said of cellphone transactions.

Schremp sees the international plan as both a telephony upgrade and acquisition tool. The company kicked off the calling plan with an e-mail blast to all its existing telephony customers. The company also plans a lot of in-language marketing to ethnic groups.

Charter's phone footprint now includes more than 7.6 million homes. Its $29.99 base calling plan already includes unlimited local and long distance, including calls to Canada and Puerto Rico. Consumers must buy through the base plan to be able to buy the international calling plan.