By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
In the world of long-distance calling, entrepreneurs John Stix and Jody Schnarr are gods. And you need not look any further than the slogan of their company, Worldline, to understand why: "Long distance is over" -- in Toronto, anyway. Their concept of no-charge-per-minute long-distance calling using voiceover Internet protocol technology lies at the heart of a new business venture between them and the Toronto Sun, and it's drawing a growing legion of instant fans.
The Toronto Sun and Worldline partners John Stix (left) and Jody Schnarr have launched a new long-distance service that allows users to avoid paying any per-minute charges for Ontario calls. Users do not need a computer or Internet connection to use it.
"The response has been unbelievable -- way beyond our best-case scenario. We've had to quickly hire a lot of people and use a third-party call centre to keep up," says Stix, executive vice-president of marketing at Worldline.
Of course, everyone loves a freebie, but this seems too good to be true. Turns out it's not. Through their service, all subscribers (those for whom a 416 number isn't long distance) pay for is a network support fee of $3.95 per month plus tax and a $10 registration fee and listen to a five-second ad when they call a specified number.
They can make as many free calls as they want, at any time of the day, to anywhere in the province. While the idea has been tried before, this is the first in Ontario that allows users to make calls using their telephone instead of a computer microphone.
Hundreds of people have been signing up every day for Toronto Sun Call (www.torontosuncall.com
) since its Aug. 15 launch, and Stix is certain the venture will revolutionize the entire industry.
"Voiceover IP is the next generation in communication. The efficiency of the networks is astounding, and as a service provider, we can pass on our savings to consumers," Stix says.
The venture marks a major breakthrough for the 34-year-old Waterloo native, who has spent a decade experimenting with different business ideas in telecommunications. After high school, he signed up for some business courses at Wilfred Laurier University and worked with his father in sales and marketing at the Canadian Automobile Association.
In 1994, when deregulation was introduced in the telephone industry, Stix saw a business opportunity, and immediately connected with Jody Schnarr, his best friend since 14.
Schnarr, who graduated with a business commerce degree from the University of Toronto, is the technical brains behind the partnership.
What followed was a series of business initiatives, including a low flat-rate long-distance service between various community pockets in Ontario. Stix and Schnarr then came up with 644free.com, which allows for free long-distance calling within the GTA after callers listen to a 10 to 15-second ad. With the advent of the Internet, they launched 295.ca, the country's most affordable dialup Internet service at, you guessed it, $2.95 a month. Based on the current momentum, Toronto Sun Call is shaping up to be the pair's most successful initiative yet.
Schnarr, who has several years of experience in telecom and Internet technology, is the president of Worldline and specializes in the architecture of high-quality, cost-reduced computer networks.
"People have a hard time believing it," he says. "We still have infrastructure to maintain and have to cover the cost of new equipment and expansion, but we charge $3.95 for that and we get rid of long distance charges. Companies reduce their costs and pass on some of the savings to end users."
As Worldline prepares to launch its service across Canada in the next 90 days, in the U.S. in the next 12 months, Schnarr and Stix see nothing but growth ahead.
"Sure, it's in Ontario right now, but we have lofty goals," Schnarr says. "This is a service that has mass appeal."
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