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Telephone Bills: Charges on Local Telephone Bills

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Publication Date: May 2003

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL30052

Topic: Media, telecommunications, and information (Telephone)


Telephone bills are becoming more and more complex and such change and complexity occasion congressional and regulatory attention as well as constituent requests for explanation of new charges on their bills. As local telephone companies provide additional caller services and continue to act as billing agents for longdistance and information service providers, a customer's local bill can include charges for myriad options that did not exist a few years ago. Bills may now contain charges labeled federal subscriber line charge, presubscribed interexchange carrier charge, "national access fee," "carrier line charge," "federal universal service charge," or local telephone number portability. In addition, customers may now receive bills for different telecommunications services from different telecommunications service providers.

In the past, long-distance companies usually billed business customers directly and residential customers through a local phone company. Recently, long-distance companies have begun billing residential customers directly. One bill has become two. Cellular telephone and personal communications services (PCS) providers, competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC), and paging companies usually send bills directly to the consumer. Some cable television companies are providing local telephone service, and those charges may appear on a cable bill.

Although surveys show that consumers prefer one readable and understandable bill, there is no federal regulation or law that dictates the layout or wording that is used on bills. This report lists and describes the possible basic charges that commonly appear on most local service telephone bills and discusses the practice of "cramming," the appearance of unauthorized and possibly illegal charges on telephone bills. An overview of various actions by the Federal Communications Commission is also provided.

This report will be updated as events warrant.