There are codes your phone company would prefer you didn't know--codes that would give you access to cheaper long-distance carriers that bypass your primary service. "The industry has a dirty little secret," says Robert Pokress, founder and CEO of MediaCom, a manufacturer of PC-based telephone software in Bedford, Mass. "You don't have to be locked into one long-distance company."

Long-distance carriers buy access to the existing telephone infrastructure in bulk at discounted rates and resell it. To take advantage of this peculiar arrangement, Pokress developed the PhoneMiser service ( to find the cheapest rate for long-distance calls. The service consists of a software program and a hardware device that plugs into the parallel port of a PC. Each time you dial a long-distance number, PhoneMiser routes the call by using special codes to access the cheapest carrier. The software costs just under $50, but Pokress estimates that it could save small businesses more than 50% on their phone bills.