Understanding Your Telephone Bill
You might find the charges on your monthly wireline or wireless telephone bills confusing sometimes. To increase clarity for consumers, the FCC’s Truth-in-Billing rules require service providers to:
- Provide clear, factual, plain language descriptions of services for which you are being billed.
- Identify the service provider associated with each charge.
- Specify which charges could result in disconnection of basic local service if they are not paid on time, and which ones would not.
- Display on each bill one or more toll-free numbers that you can call to ask about or dispute any charge.
These are some of the charges you will see on both your wireline and wireless telephone bills:
- Local telephone companies are allowed to bill customers for a portion of the costs of providing access to its local network. These charges are not a government charge or tax. The maximum allowable access charges per telephone line are set by the FCC, but local telephone companies are free to charge less than that, or even nothing at all.
- Access charges for second or additional lines at the same residence are higher than the charges for the primary line. These charges can be described on your telephone bill as “Federal Access Charge,” “Customer or Subscriber Line Charge,” “Interstate Access Charge,” etc.
- State public service commissions regulate access charges for intrastate (within a state) calls. In some states, a state subscriber line charge may appear on customer bills.
Federal excise tax
- This three percent tax applies only to local service billed separately from long distance service.
State and local taxes
- Taxes imposed by state, local, and municipal governments on goods and services that may also appear as “gross receipts” taxes on your bill
Universal service charges
- All telecommunications service providers must contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund, which allows those living in rural and high-cost areas, income-eligible consumers, rural health care facilities, and schools and libraries to access to telecommunications services at reasonable rates through programs and initiatives such as the Connect America Fund, Lifeline and E-rate.
- A “Universal Service” line item may appear on your telephone bill when your service provider chooses to recover USF contributions from you, the customer. The FCC does not require this charge to be passed on to you, but service providers are allowed to do so. These charges usually appear as a percentage of your phone bill. Companies cannot collect an amount that exceeds the percentage of their contribution to the USF. They also cannot collect any fees from someone who is a Lifeline beneficiary.
911, LNP, and TRS charges
- 911 – To help local governments pay for emergency services such as fire and rescue.
- Local Number Portability – For retaining your current local telephone numbers when switching from one service provider to another at the same location. Fees may vary by company; some may not charge any fees. These fees are not taxes.
- Telecommunications Relay Service – To help pay for relay services that transmit and translate calls for people with hearing or speech disabilities.
- Directory Assistance – For placing 411 or (area code) 555-1212 directory assistance calls.
- Monthly Calling Plan Charge – Applicable any monthly calling plan, such as unlimited long distance calling on your wireline bill or unlimited minutes on your wireless bill.
- Operator Assisted Calls – For calls connected by an operator. Rates for these calls generally are higher than rates for unassisted calls.
- Features Charges – Services such as call forwarding, three-way calling, call waiting, voice mail and Caller ID.
These charges would appear only on your wireline telephone bill:
- Minimum Monthly Charge – Some long distance companies charge a minimum monthly charge even if you don’t make long distance calls.
- “Single Bill” Fee – For combining local and long distance charges onto one bill. This fee is not mandated by the FCC and is not an FCC charge. Some companies waive the fee for customers who pay bills online or by credit card. Youcan avoid the charge by arranging for separate billing from your long distance telephone company.
Finally, these charges would appear only on your wireless telephone bill:
- Airtime charges – If you don’t have any more voice minutes in your package, you could see airtime or per-minute charges on your wireless bill for any additional voice calls. Some providers round fractions of minutes to the next highest one, two, or three minutes. Check the terms of your service plan.
- Roaming charges – Wireless providers typically charge higher per-minute rates for calls made or received outside of the service area or network defined in your service plan or contract. Additional charges, such as a daily access fee, may also be applied.
- 911 charges – Enhanced 911 service enables wireless telephones used to dial 911 to automatically transmit the caller’s location to emergency responders. Wireless service providers may choose to bill their customers for E911 service costs.
- Text messaging – You can be charged either a per-message fee or a flat, monthly fee for unlimited messaging.
- Downloading fees – For downloading more data (including apps, system upgrades, music files and ring tones) than the plan allows.
- Detailed billing – Fees for detailing billing information for calls, such as date, time, duration, number called, or calling party.
Where to file complaints
If there are charges on your bill that you believe are incorrect, you should contact the billing company or the service provider. If you are not satisfied with the response, you can file a complaint with:
- The FCC for charges related to telephone services between states or internationally.
- Your state public service commission for telephone services within your state. Contact information can be found at www.naruc.org or in the blue pages or government section of your local telephone directory.
- The Federal Trade Commission for non-telephone services on your telephone bill.