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.
Many changes are occurring within the telecommunications industry. Some of those changes have become apparent on the consumers’ phone bills. In the past, you may have received separate bills for your local phone service and your long distance phone service. Now, it is more common to receive only one phone bill with charges for all of the telecommunications services that you receive. Due to this convergence, it may have become more difficult to understand what services you are receiving, who is providing those services and what you are paying for those services.
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.
Some of the billing items that you may typically see on your telephone bill and brief descriptions of those items are:
- 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 are:
- 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.
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.
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