BasicTalk: Magic, or Smoke and Mirrors?
Attention, Walmart Shoppers! Have you seen the new residential Voice-over-Internet product in the Electronics department? How about the snarky TV commercial that subtly disparages Magic Jack Plus? Does BasicTalk’s package look familiar with its orange, blue, and white color scheme? Do you smell a 'Con-age?'
"It's Not Magic, It's BasicTalk"
Yes, Walmart’s new VoIP appliance is really just Vonage re-branded. In the company’s 2013 Q1 report to shareholders, CEO Marc Lefar noted, "We are also excited about our upcoming national launch of our new flanker brand, BasicTalk, which targets the low-end domestic calling market.”
What is “low-end” about BasicTalk? Only the retail distribution channel, apparently. As of this writing, Walmart is the only place you can walk into and buy a BasicTalk box. Then you must take it home and activate it through BasicTalk.com. Of course, activation requires a computer and broadband Internet. In the unlikely event that you live where broadband is available but Walmart is not, you can order a BasicTalk kit shipped to your home via BasicTalk’s Web site.
Clearly, Vonage is feeling the pinch of the successful Magic Jack product, and BasicTalk is how they intend to recapture some of that market share. (See my article about Magic Jack Phone Service.) In television commercials, a magician says "When you sign up for that magic phone service, what exactly do you get? You get to pay for that magic device, you get to pay to keep your existing phone number and you get to pay for everything, up front. So where’s the magic in that?" Let's compare the two offerings...
BasicTalk’s startup cost looks low-end compared to Magic Jack Plus: only $9.99 plus tax buys the box and your first month’s service. That includes free porting of your current phone number, if desired. Magic Jack Plus charges $69.95 up-front for its box and to keep your current number, plus $19.95 for the first year’s service, for a total of about $90. (This comparison ignores taxes and fees.) So if all you have is ten bucks and change (a working definition of “low-end”), BasicTalk is the way to go.
Until the second month, when you need to come up with another ten-and-change; and each of the next ten months of the year during which a Magic Jack Plus owner is paying nothing more. Let's do a little BasicMath... the first-year total cost of Magic Talk Plus turns out to about $30 less than BasicTalk ($120 minus $90).
But Wait, There's Less!
The gap widens in the second year, when all Magic Jack Plus customers pay is $30 while BasicTalk’s monthly charges add up to $120. Sales and other taxes inflate the difference to about $148 a year; that is how much you can save by buying Magic Jack Plus instead of BasicTalk.
The BasicTalk/Walmart scheme sounds like the “rent to own” industry to me. Consumers are lured in with low cost of entry and hooked on endless payments that add up to much, much more than the product is worth. If that isn’t bad enough, read BasicTalk’s Reasonable Use Policy:
“BasicTalk's service plan is for normal residential or personal, non-commercial use. This means that only the account holder and residential family members may use the service. Residential family members include your immediate family who reside in your personal residence - such as, your spouse, domestic partner, parents and/or children.”
That’s right: if visitors asks to use your phone, technically, you can’t let them. You can’t talk to your boss from home, or talk to clients -- that would be commercial use! Of course, BasicTalk doesn’t eavesdrop on your calls to monitor who’s talking about what. If monitors only traffic volume, comparing your monthly bandwidth usage to what’s typical for similar customers. So if you have an especially chatty teenager, you may hear from BasicTalk demanding explanation of what is none of its business. Failure to correct your "excessive or abnormal" calling gives BasicTalk the right to "suspend or terminate your service with or without further notice."
So is BasicTalk a con or scam? No, not in the usual sense of those words. But it doesn't seem honest for Vonage to bash competitors when their pricing and policies really don't compare favorably. Sadly, some “low-end” (meaning, “low-information” or just plain dumb) consumers will get hooked by this Vonage "save a little now, pay a lot later" offering.
Have you tried BasicTalk, Magic Jack, or some other consumer VoIP service? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 Aug 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- BasicTalk: Magic, or Smoke and Mirrors? (Posted: 5 Aug 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved