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Telephone & Internet

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Private corporations own telephone systems in the United States, so rates for wireless and fixed-line long-distance service and operator-assisted calls can vary widely. Therefore, we suggest you never place a long-distance or international call from a pay phone using your credit card without first knowing what rates you will be charged! We also recommend that before using your hotel phone, you ask your hotel what surcharges and taxes they apply to long-distance and local calls. You will find that they are often much more than what you would like to pay, and a simple trip down to the hotel lobby pay telephone may be well worth the hassle.

International visitors might find it economical to purchase SIM cards with New York phone numbers here rather than receiving calls with their home country's wireless number. However, it pays to shop around as there is enormous variety of both calling plans and pre-paid services available. Always ask for a written contract and ensure you know exactly what service you will be receiving and whether you can cancel the contract if dissatisfied!

Public payphones use US coin currency, and in New York City generally cost $0.25 or $0.50 for a local call. The most reliable way to ensure you get good phone rates for long distance and international calls is to purchase a prepaid phone calling card. These prepaid phone cards usually will offer very competitive rates, and they may be purchased in a variety of denominations. You will find them at most convenience stores and newsstands.

In the United States, all telephone numbers are seven digits long. In New York City you must dial an additional four numbers before the main seven. These are the prefix 1 plus a three digit number know as the ‘area code.’ There are four area codes in New York City: two for Manhattan, 212 and 646, and two in the outer boroughs, 718 and 347. To place calls in New York City, you must always dial 1 plus the area code and number. This means every time you dial, 11 digits will be pushed (1 + the 3 digit area code + the seven digit number). If you ever have a problem, simply dial the number 0 and ask for the operator who will further assist you. However, if the operator places the call for you, note that substantial additional charges may apply. Do ask first!

For local and national directory assistance ("information"), dial 411. This service will aid you in finding both phone numbers and addresses; however there is often a fee, even from payphones. If you haven't got any coins handy, dial 1-800-FREE-411, but note you'll have to listen to an advertisement before you hear the number requested.

Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. For calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the telephone number of the person you are calling. Toll-free voice-activated directory information may be obtained by dialling 1-800-555-1212. Just say what you are looking for (example: "American Airlines"). If your search is unsuccessful, then say "operator" to be connected to a live operator.

VoIP services are increasingly popular in the United States, but can be difficult for a first-time traveler to navigate. In any event, Vonage and Skype are two quite distinct yet frequently used services. The former requires a subscription but the latter can be used by anyone with a credit card to purchase minutes. Lonely Planet's ekit also remains quite popular among the backpacking warrior crowd.

Internet Access Most public libraries offer internet access, and there are many Internet cafes throughout the city that rent workstations by the minute. The biggest is located in Times Square. In addition, if you have a wireless laptop or PDA, many cafes and restaurants now offer wireless internet access for little or no fee. One of the most reliable networks is offered by the coffee chain Starbucks, which has outlets conveniently located all over the city. You might also find wireless networks you can utilize free in some places in Manhattan. If you have a wireless laptop connection, you will be astounded how many places in Manhattan can pick up free wi-fi service.

And while some intrepid travellers wouldn't be caught dead without their own cellphone from home, others might prefer to use Skype or Truphone along with their free Wi-Fi connection and thus save $$$$.