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Raise your hand if you have this problem: you’re happily surfing the Web or retrieving e-mail at home one evening. The next day you discover that an important client was trying to reach you but gave up because the line was busy. Maybe you should have ordered that second phone line, but you can’t see parting with $20 a month. Cable modems or digital subscriber lines would have given you Net access without tying up a phone line, but they are even more costly. You could have ordered voicemail from your phone company for $10 a month or so, but you still would not have known about the call until after you had completed the online session. From the “Why didn’t I think of that?” department comes Internet call-waiting, a concept quickly filling a void for many solos and work-at-home professionals. You can now have your single line and know that your best client is trying to reach you. Several Web sites are offering the services dirt cheap. So are several phone companies. Some of the services are free, which usually means putting up with ads. But for less than $6 a month, you can lose the ads and gain all sorts of enhanced services. The primary suppliers are BuzMe.com, CallWave.com, Pagoo.com and InternetCallManager.com. The concept is simple: When you’re online and have an incoming call, a window will pop up and notify you of the call. BuzMe and InternetCallManager even let you know what telephone number is calling. The free services let you either ignore the call or send it off to voicemail. But if you buy the enhanced services, you can actually take the call. The service automatically breaks your Internet connection and routes the call back to your phone, where you can answer it. These services take advantage of a phone company feature known as “call forwarding on busy.” Most telephone companies charge a modest monthly sum — anywhere from 50 cents to $3.50. Behind the scenes, the incoming call is forwarded to the service, which then forwards it back to your phone once you’re offline. After researching the offerings, I decided to try BuzMe.com. Its features and price mix were appealing. You can, for example, record your own greetings and play back voice messages through your Web browser. BuzMe’s setup was a breeze: I signed up on its Web site, and the company took care of everything, including ordering call forwarding from my phone company. All I had to do was download software and wait five days until the forwarding service was activated. (BuzMe can take messages if you choose to ignore an incoming call, but it requires yet another phone company service: call forward on no answer.) The enhanced services make all the difference in presenting yourself professionally and conveniently to your callers. The ability to take a call is essential, and Caller ID lets you screen them. BuzMe’s $4.95-a-month enhanced service includes 60 minutes of “talk time.” Whenever you take a call through BuzMe, long-distance charges accrue. BuzMe forwards the incoming call at long-distance rates, even if it’s from your next-door neighbor. The best way to use talk time is to answer the call, get the caller’s name and number, and call him or her back so you don’t use up your 60 minutes. CallWave and Pagoo don’t have this feature yet. InternetCallManager offers it, but you need to buy the long-distance minutes at extra cost. Internet call waiting services should become even more convenient over the next year. A new, preliminary modem standard would add these services to a modem’s built-in capabilities. The new standard would likely encourage Internet call waiting services and voicemail providers to offer even more compelling enhancements. Some are already developing enhanced messaging and real-time notification of calls when you’re mobile. eVoice.com is a free voicemail provider that sends a message to your e-mail address, pager or cell phone, and others are sure to follow. One can only hope they include an off switch. Internet call waiting services are popping up like dandelions. Check out buzme.com, pagoo.com, callwave.com and internetcallmanager.com. Beard ([email protected]) is a legal technologist at Milwaukee’s Quarles & Brady.

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