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World Prices Vary for `Reaching Out' by Phone

IMAGINE three people - a German, a Frenchman, and an American - who each want to make 10-minute transatlantic calls.

The American would pay the least. He could call a friend in Paris using AT&T and pay a maximum $11.25. That top rate is not much different than the other way around. France Telecom would charge 69.30 francs ($11.86 at the current exchange rate) for a call to the US. In Germany, the price would be 19.78 deutsche marks (about $11.52).

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But the off-peak rates differ widely. From the US to France, it costs only $7. In France, it's about $8.95. Germany has no discount rate.

Another US advantage is having the choice of carriers. Consumers can call overseas with companies other than AT&T. Sprint, for example, has the same direct-dial rates to France as AT&T, but it also offers a discount service for frequent callers. For a $3 fee every month, consumers can call anywhere in the world at the off-peak price of 61 cents a minute. Thus, frequent international callers could bring the cost of a 10-minute European call to under $7.

Theoretically, a Frenchman or German could call overseas using an American company's lines and credit card, but the rates are even higher than their own national phone companies.

These international comparisons actually understate the US advantage.

Using a market-basket measure that includes costs of local service, the Gartner Group estimates that telecommunications in France is about twice as expensive as in the US. In Germany it's about two and a half times as expensive.

But Spain takes the top spot in Europe at four times the US cost.

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