TECHNOLOGY: THE NEXT INVASION

How do you phone home? More than a million consumers have discovered VoIP--voice over Internet protocol--to make local and long-distance calls over the Internet. Subscribers get a phone adapter to plug into their broadband line. Because the services don't slap on as many fees, your bill will be lower. The downside? You'll lose your phone when your Internet goes down, and 911 service is tricky. Still, with prices so low, now might be a good time to join, especially if you need a second line. The lowdown:

VONAGE (vonage.com) is the leader, with some 500,000 customers. It comes with three-way calling and call return (*69). But its customer service has been getting bad marks. $25 a month for all U.S. calls; $68 start-up fee (includes the first month).

AT&T CALLVANTAGE (callvantage .com) is adding an enhanced 911 service that would allow the operator to see your contact info. $30 a month; $30 start-up, and $10 for shipping.

VERIZON VOICEWING (verizon.com/ voicewing) waives the start-up fee if you sign up online. $35 a month.

CABLEVISION'S OPTIMUM VOICE (optimum.com) is available only to people who use the company's Internet service. Free installation--and it'll wire the service to your existing phone jacks. $35 a month.

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