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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota residents might have the most unusual long-distance calling plan in the Pacific — maybe even the world.

They have U.S. numbers with area codes that allow unlimited calls to the United States, Canada and around the base for $29.95 a month. For an extra $20 a month they get 100 minutes of calling time to other countries — including Japan.

It’s also considered a local call for friends and relatives back home, as long as their area codes match up, or a domestic long-distance call if they live elsewhere in the States. The key, many say, is that it’s no longer considered an overseas call to or from Japan at the more expensive rates.

The Voice Over Internet Protocol service arrived earlier this year as part of the new Allied Telesis package. VOIP is available at other Pacific bases but not on as large a scale.

“I love the phones,” said Bera Casiano, a Yokota spouse. “Free calls to the States are great.”

With a U.S. area code now, Casiano says she gets a lot more calls from her family.

“The phone service is crystal clear, easy to use,” she said. “I’ve had no problems with it at all.”

Others, however, have encountered difficulties with the new system, including the fact that to call another number on Yokota entails dialing 11 digits instead of the old seven. And if you’re calling a home number from a military DSN line, you’ll also have to dial 97 first.

Calls to off-base Japanese numbers are a problem, too.

“I think the phones are terrible,” said Capt. Gene Groover of the 374th Medical Group. “If I want to call off base, even just a half a mile away, I have to pay as if I’m calling from the states.”

Groover said he also finds it frustrating that Allied doesn’t do payroll deductions for payment, even though it was an option when he initially registered.

“It has been really nice to call back to the States for free with unlimited minutes, so I guess that’s one positive thing I can say about their service,” he said.

Tech. Sgt. Rex Hinkamper of the 374th Communications Squadron said it’s much easier to stay in touch with relatives back home now, and he also likes not having to pay for calling 800 numbers anymore.

“You hear some people complaining about their phone calls disconnecting every now and then or other problems,” he said. “But I think it’s all on your point of view.”

Staff Sgt. Vicky Gray of the 374th Medical Operations Squadron said she doesn’t use Allied’s VOIP service. She already had a contract with Vonage for Internet phone calls before moving to Japan and preferred to keep the same phone number.

However, Vonage and other such off-base services some residents use do not access base emergency services or DSN numbers.

And some Yokota residents said they wish there were more providers on base so customers could have a better choice for telecommunications services.

“Everyone likes options,” Groover said. “That’s the American way.”

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