Telecommunications

Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over wire, radio, optical, or other electromagnetic systems.

The Division of Consumer Advocacy (DCA) primarily reviews and acts upon filings made by telecommunications service providers with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The DCA has also participated in proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission. Due to the critical nature of communications, the DCA tries to ensure that these telecommunications services are available to consumers at reasonable and affordable rates.

Telecommunications in Hawaii, A Brief History

Hawaii’s telecommunications industry continues to change with newer technologies and services, and the regulation of Hawaii’s telecommunications industry is also changing. This industry used to be called “the telephone industry”. Now, some telecommunication services are still under traditional regulation (like basic local exchange service), some are less strictly regulated (like long-distance service and wireless telephone) and some are virtually unregulated (like the internet and cable television). Traditional regulation of monopoly services is predominantly performed at the state level, in our case by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. Services that cross state boundaries or use radio frequencies are primarily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Telecommunication Companies

There are many companies providing telecommunication services in Hawaii. A comprehensive list can be found here.

Telecommunications Relay and Speech to Speech Services

Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), also sometimes referred to as TDD (telecommunications devices for the deaf), is a service mandated by Federal and State rules and statutes.

For more information on TRS or TDD click here.

Your Telephone Bill

With any product or service, you must pay the provider in order to receive the product or service. Likewise with telecommunications services, you must pay your service provider in order to continue to stay connected to the telephone network.

Some of the billing items that you may typically see on your telephone bill and brief descriptions:

What might my bill include?
  • Basic Service: These services are commonly referred to as regulated local phone service.
    • Touch Call: In the past, additional costs were incurred by a telephone company to provide “touch call” or “touch tone” services. While the telephone companies no longer incur these specific costs, this line item will remain on the bill until the Commission approves a new rate design for the telephone company.
    • Residence or Business line: This represents the monthly charge for local telephone service.
    • Interstate Subscriber Line Charge: Sometimes referred to as a “SLC” charge, this represents a federally mandated charge to contribute to the cost of the infrastructure from your service provider to your home. This is limited to a maximum of $3.50.

       

  • Taxes or surcharges associated with your basic service:
    • Federal Excise Tax: This is a tax assessment levied upon the service provider that is being passed on to its customers.
    • Public Utilities Commission service fee: The service provider is assessed a tax on the gross regulated intrastate revenues and permitted to pass this tax to its customers. There was an increase in the rate applied to the revenues from 0.25% to 0.5%. Thus, the surcharge should approximate 0.25% of your local phone service charges.
    • Intrastate Surcharge: The Commission approved an increase in the local phone service rates in 1997. This surcharge is designed to recover the 11.23% increase that was authorized in the telephone company’s last rate case.
    • Telecommunications Relay Services: Your service provider has been authorized to assess a surcharge to help compensate it for the costs incurred to provide special assistance to hearing impaired customers.
    • Statewide 9-1-1 Emergency Service Surcharge: Telephone companies were required to implement technologies and services that would allow it to communicate information related to the calling party’s phone number (i.e., the phone being used to call 9-1-1) to emergency services providers. In addition, the telephone companies were allowed to pass the costs on to customers.
    • Svc Provider Number Portability Fee: In order to make it easier for customers to change telephone companies, the FCC required local exchange carriers to install the necessary technologies to permit customers to keep their existing telephone numbers regardless of the service provider. The costs of implementation are allowed, but not required, to be passed on to customers. This charge should end in 2004.
  • Non-Basic Service: This reflects the services or products being received that are not regulated
    • Inside Wire Maintenance Plan: This service is not obligatory and the charge is based on a customer’s decision to participate in this plan. If there is a problem with the inside wiring, the telephone company will provide the necessary repair service.
  • Long Distance charges
    • Presubscribed Interexchange Carrier Charge: This is also sometimes referred to as a PICC, National Access Fee (used by MCI WorldCom), Carrier Line Charge (used by AT&T), or Presubscribed Line Charge (used by Sprint). It represents the costs incurred by the long distance carriers’ usage of the local telephone companies’ telephone network infrastructures.
    • Federal Universal Service Fee: The fee represents the charges incurred by carriers to making telephone service available and internet access available to schools, libraries and rural health care providers.

For more information, including discussion of charges you may see on a wireless phone service bill, visit the FCC’s guide on Understanding Your Phone Bill.

If you ever have any questions about a line item appearing on your bill or the charges being assessed, you should call your service provider. In addition, before you call your telecommunications services provider, you may also want to confirm with other users of telecommunications services in your home or business whether they may be responsible for any questionable items or charges appearing on your bill.

Slamming and Cramming

While it may be easier to simply look at the total and pay the billing company that amount, that may not be a prudent decision. You may unknowingly be the victim of practices such as slamming and/or cramming. While you must pay for the services you have ordered from the service provider you selected, you should not be held responsible for calls you did not make from a carrier you did not select. You should always carefully review your phone bill to ensure that you are not paying for something for which you are not responsible.

Slamming

Slamming is an industry term for a situation where a telephone consumer’s phone service is switched from the preferred or selected carrier to another telecommunications services provider. The result of such a practice can be the customer paying extremely high per minute charges and/or high monthly recurring charges for long distance and/or local phone services. Slamming may occur as a result of unintentional actions, or intentional, fraudulent actions. Services providers have implemented steps to mitigate the chances of slamming occurring. However, each consumer must also contribute to prevent slamming occurring to them. First, you should be very careful of signing anything without reading the fine print carefully. There are some schemes where the consumer is asked to send in a signed sweepstakes entry, but the only end result is that your phone service is switched. In addition, you should review your monthly phone bill. Upon review, there will be clear indication of the entity who is currently providing your services. If the company reflected on your bill is not the company you selected as your provider, you should contact your local phone company and the long distance services provider that you had selected. Be sure to confirm that you will not get assessed a change in your primary interexchange carrier by the telephone company. Since you were a victim of slamming, you should not be held responsible for any charges that may be assessed to restore your preferred long distance services provider.

Cramming

Cramming is an industry term for a situation where a company may charge for telecommunications or information services that were not intentionally ordered by the consumer. As a result, unwary consumers may end up paying a telecommunications services provider for services that they did not want to order and should not have to pay for. Please note that this situation is different from one where another user may have ordered or utilized telecommunications services without informing the billpayer(s). To take precautions against cramming, you should review your monthly phone bill carefully. If there are any charges that do not appear familiar, you should call the provider that is charging you for the services.

For more information on cramming, visit the FCC’s Cramming Tip Sheet for Consumers page.

Lifeline 

Lifeline is a government program that offers qualified people a discount on their monthly local telephone or internet bill. Each state has its own guidelines to qualify. Click here to view more information.

Hawaiian Telcom Tariffs

Click here to view a PUC approved list of rules and rates charged for the provision of Hawaiian Telcom’s regulated services.