Even More Frequently Asked Questions:
What’s for dinner?
Are we there yet?
Brother can you spare a dime?
To be or not to be?
How did this clown ever get elected?
How can we help you?
Seriously, if you don’t see your question answered below, contact us!
We are here to help.
No, we no longer do break/fix IT work. After providing IT services since 2000, we have learned that well-managed organizations are willing to commit the IT resources on an ongoing basis. IT maintenance and support is simply NOT something that you can attend to occasionally, hoping for the best until disaster strikes.
Here’s an analogy. It’s like you’re swimming in the ocean and have a problem – a cut foot, a shark bite or drowning. And now you’re asking if we are an EMT. We’re lifeguards, not EMTs. We keep the area safe for swimming, prevent sharks, keep some band aids on hand, teach you how to swim, etc. When you hire us as lifeguards, you won’t likely ever need EMT services (unless you swim outside the buoys).
Yes, we are available for work on IT projects. By definition, projects can be planned and scheduled in advance. Contact us to talk about your specific project and we can provide a quote for the project’s specific scope.
We offer a variety of data backup systems and strategies for differing levels of size and need. All of our IT agreement customers will have a backup system in place. If you’re not currently on an IT agreement with Alternative, contact us to talk about your backup system.
We wish. We are an authorized distributor for several manufacturers (Dell, Microsoft, etc.), but in today’s internet economy, it is not unusual for internet behemoths (Amazon or Best Buy) to have lower prices than we do. (This is true for all local retailers.) The advantage of buying hardware through Alternative is that we provide specific guidance on compatible systems, ensure that warranties and licenses are properly registered for your organization, and install the equipment in your office. For nonprofits, we often work through TechSoup or other special programs for discounted hardware or software.
We answer phones weekdays from 8am to 5pm.
No, sorry. We don’t provide this as a service (you can’t do everything!). We may have a recommendation based on our own experience or based on interactions with other customers.
Because of the complexity of IT, we sometimes need to perform an onsite Technology Assessment to ensure accuracy prior to providing a quote for services. It needs to be understood that diagnosing issues and recommending solutions is often the hardest (or longest) part of technical help. It involves the same technicians who implement the solution and bring all their years of experience to the issue at hand. So, yes, we sometimes charge for a quote, but that quote is itself a deliverable. Some or all of the Tech Assessment cost may be waived if we perform the work.
No. For on-premises systems we almost always recommend NEC – for quality, longevity and reliability, they are unsurpassed. In some cases, we recommend our Cloud Phone system. The recommendation is always based on the customer scenario, site cabling, staff usage patterns, etc.
It all started over 20 years ago, when we were researching manufacturers during telecom’s tumultuous decade of the 1990s. As telephone systems went from analog to digital, and more features were incorporated, it was clear that NEC was committed to R&D, and ongoing support. That decision to work with NEC turned out to be a good one, as other “biggies” (AT&T, Lucent, Nortel, etc.) have disappeared from the office market.
Telephone Maintenance Agreements (TMA) can be compared to insurance. For a small monthly fee, you can be assured that you can call us anytime for a long list of covered services and parts for your telephone system. Without the TMA, we still consider you a valued customer, and we will troubleshoot any issue remotely or send a technician as necessary, at our standard hourly rates.
SIP trunks can be a smart choice for organizations that have premises based (PBX) telephone systems. SIP trunks are virtual phone lines that use an internet connection to access the public telephone network (PSTN). We can provide excellent options for SIP trunk connectivity for nonprofits and progressive small businesses with existing phone systems.
Let our support department know as soon as possible! That will give us a heads up as to the variety of needs you will have. We can help manage your technology move (including your carriers!) so you are up and running smoothly at your new site. Also, be sure to download our Moving Guide.
Yes, we are a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC). We are regulated by the state of California Public Utilities Commission, and provide regular reporting to applicable government agencies. As a carrier, we provide Cloud Phone services to our customers.
Those, my friend, are public policy and lobbying, and their children. See the Public Utilities Commission website for an authoritative explanation: https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/surcharges/.
Easy. We can provide a quick tutorial on your Cloud Phone customer portal. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, we have links to manuals and some user guides here. If you don’t see what you need, or need assistance determining information about your phone system, make a ticket by clicking on the red “Tech Support” button.
Cloud Phone Service
Not at all. One simple form starts the process of transferring your telephone number(s). And we’ll need to know more about your existing telephones (a photo will probably do). Fill out a contact form and we’ll get in touch.
Calls to Canada are included in the service, but for other nations, international per-minute rates apply. Need to know an international rate? Just ask – we can send a current rate sheet.
Sure. We can add an app to your smartphone so that it can function much like a desk phone when you are away from your office. It may be possible to have an app that is used in place of your deskphone. It can be configured to connect via the office Wi-Fi, or through your cellular network.
Yes, we usually have several models in stock for both NEC and our cloud phone installations.
California Teleconnect Fund
Yes, we are a carrier approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to provide carrier services at a discount to eligible nonprofits. Note, however, that since July 1, 2019, voice services are no longer eligible to receive the CTF discount. CTF discounts are still available for internet data services to CTF-approved entities.
Yes. We understand the intent of the program and recent revisions that can affect currently approved organizations and future applicants. We would be happy to look at your programs and see if we can help you with the CTF application process, or make other recommendations to assist your organization in getting better bandwidth options for its programs and services.
Yes, we have experience in providing low-voltage cabling for various brands of modular furniture and desk systems.
Cable classification is determined by the data throughput speed and distance. For most current uses, Cat 5E is adequate. However, because of increasing use of video and reliance on cloud services, most customers are choosing to install Cat6 or Cat6A. As for Cat7: it was fairly popular in Europe for 10GBASE-T over copper applications. But, it was never recognized by the TIA/EIA, partly because Cat6A came out and took care of the 10G issue with RJ45 and 8P8C compatible termination hardware. So Cat7 never took hold here in North America. TMI? All our cabling jobs nowadays utilize Cat6A cable.
Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless! ☺ (This is the only emoji!)
Alternative announced its conversion to a worker-owned cooperative in June 2022. Long-planned by founder Jerry Skomer, the transition is a culmination of his achievement in creating a progressively oriented technology business helping nonprofits. Becoming a cooperative is reflective of Jerry’s values and is a means to sustain and advance the workplace culture at Alternative Technologies.
Groundwork for the conversion of the company was cultivated over many years. More formal and professional preparation commenced under the guidance of Project Equity, a nonprofit based in Oakland. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the plan somewhat, but all in all, this long-term plan was ultimately accomplished by the staff of Alternative.
Moving to a worker-owned co-op structure is a natural outgrowth our founder’s vision. Being a cooperative sends a clear signal that we truly are a different, values-aligned team.
For the most part, customers may not notice or ever realize that we have become a worker-owned cooperative. There is no reason to expect a change in services, pricing or team members.
It is possible you may detect a little extra perk in the step of our co-workers (co-owners)! And over the medium- and long-term, we anticipate that our status as a worker-owned cooperative will continue to attract talented, progressive minded, customer-oriented technical workers eager to assist the organizations we have historically served.
In short, it gives us confidence and pride in performing our jobs. For members, being a part of the cooperative means taking a little bit of extra responsibility, above and beyond our specific role, to make good decisions on behalf of the company. Members vote on matters affecting strategic decisions of the co-op. Because the staff at Alternative is by its nature community-minded, mutual consideration and self-management are already present and in practice in our organization.
Our rates vary depending on the type of work you need from us. We have always offered special rates for nonprofit organizations. Contact us for an estimate on your specific technology need.
For many years we provided an annual free e-waste pickup service. We continue to work with a local nonprofit partner which operates an extensive service to refurbish, recycle, resell or donate office hardware to worthy causes. Contact the site nearest you:
620 Page Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Marin & Sonoma
42 Digital Drive, Suite 3
Novato, CA 94949
SF & Peninsula
2915 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Keep an eye on our Careers webpage. We are growing, and are regularly hiring for new positions. We also advertise on Indeed.
All Cloud Phone customers can pay their bills online. Other invoices cannot be paid online at this time. To make a one-time credit card payment, contact our accounting department at email@example.com.
Maybe! We have a small budget each year for nonprofit donations. Send your event info to firstname.lastname@example.org.