Q: Why are there so many charges on a local telephone bill?
A: Telephone bills have become increasingly complex as local telephone service is bundled with other services, such as wireless phone service, cable TV, broadband Internet service and Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service. The charges you see on your bill often depend on what company is billing you and what types of services you subscribe to, such as traditional wireline service or wireless service. Some charges may appear on all types of bills for local telephone service, while other charges are exclusive to the type of service you use. Federal and state governments permit telephone companies to collect several other types of surcharges and taxes. How these charges appear on telephone bills varies depending on the company that is billing you.
Q: What is the “number portability surcharge”?
A: Local number portability enables consumers to keep their existing telephone number when switching from one local telephone service provider to another within the same geographic area. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows companies to charge all customers for the costs their telephone company incurs in providing this ability. Fees may vary by company, and some companies may not charge any fees.
Q: Why is there a monthly charge for the 9-1-1 emergency system?
A: 9-1-1 emergency charges are imposed to help pay for enhanced emergency 9-1-1 access to fire, police and medical responders in each Ohio county. Fees for 9-1-1 services are paid by all wireline and wireless telephone customers as a flat-rate monthly charge. The monthly amount for wireline customers is calculated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the 9-1-1 fee for wireless customers is set by law at $0.25 per month.
Q: What is the “inside wiring maintenance plan” charge?
A: Most local phone companies offer inside wiring maintenance plans such as AT&T's “Line-Backer.” Consumers pay a monthly fee to cover the costs of repairing inside wiring problems covered under the plan. Inside wiring plans are optional; in lieu of subscribing to a plan, customers may do their own inside wire repairs, hire an outside contractor, or pay the telephone company to make the repair. Also, renters should know that inside wiring repairs may be covered in their lease. Inside wiring problems are relatively rare; a customer might confront an inside wiring issue once every 20 to 30 years, on average. Therefore, the cost of an inside wiring maintenance plan may be greater than its value for most consumers. In considering whether to subscribe to an inside wiring maintenance plan, consumers should consider the age and condition of the wiring inside their residence.
Q: What is the “federal access” charge?
A: Sometimes referred to as the “subscriber line charge,” this fee allows your local telephone company to recover some of the costs of connecting your home to the telephone network. The FCC sets a maximum allowable fee that telephone companies may charge, but the company is free to charge less or nothing at all.
Q: What are “federal universal service” fees?
A: The FCC requires telecommunications carriers providing interstate services to pay into the Universal Service Fund, which helps provide affordable telecommunications services in rural and other areas where the cost of providing service is high. The fund also assists low-income individuals, rural healthcare facilities, schools and libraries. Although they are not required to, some carriers collect their contributions to this fund directly from their customers, in which case a fee, sometimes called a federal universal service fee, will appear as a line item on the bill.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.