Frequently Asked Questions
How do I sign up for the Do-Not-Call list that prevents telemarketers and others solicitors from calling my home?
In response to consumer concerns about unwelcome telemarketing calls, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission established the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The registry applies to all telemarketers (with the exception of certain non-profit and political organizations) and covers both interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls. Commercial telemarketers are not allowed to call you if your number is listed on the registry.
You can register your phone number for free, and it will remain on the national Do-Not-Call Registry for five years. You may re-enter your number on the list when the five years have passed, and you may remove your name from the list at any time. The Do-Not-Call Registry will not prevent all unwanted calls. It does not cover:
- Calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship,
- Calls for which you have given prior written consent,
- Calls which are not commercial or do not include unsolicited advertisements
- Calls by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.
Consumers may register their residential telephone number, including wireless numbers, on the national Do-Not-Call Registry at no cost by telephone or on the Internet. To register by telephone, you should call 1-888-382-1222. For TTY, call 1-866-290-4236. You must call from the phone number you wish to register. You may also register by Internet at www.donotcall.gov. Inclusion of your telephone number on the national Do-Not-Call Registry will be effective within 31 days of your registration.
Are there programs available to help make telephone service more affordable for low-income customers? How is eligibility determined, and where can I apply?
Federal and state lawmakers believe that every person in America should have access to quality, affordable telecommunications service. If you participate in social programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, the national school free-lunch program, or supplemental security income, or if your household income is below a certain threshold level, you may qualify for a discount on your telephone bill. This “universal service” system includes:
- Lifeline assistance – provides discounts for basic monthly local telephone service
- Link-Up – reduces the cost of initiating new telephone service
Eligibility for these programs varies by federal and/or state guidelines. To find out whether you qualify for either Lifeline or Link-Up America assistance, you need to fill out standard forms available at our office and other state and local government offices in the area. While we participate in these federal and state based support programs, we are not responsible for determining who qualifies, and therefore who receives assistance. Customers must meet specific, pre-determined regulations in order to obtain assistance with their local telephone service. Qualifying is wholly dependent upon these guidelines.
The Universal Service Administrative Co. lists full details and state-specific Lifeline contact information, at www.lifelinesupport.org. Or, you can call toll-free, 1-888-641-8722, if you have questions about the Lifeline and Link-Up discounts.
Billing Issues (Truth in Billing)
I do not recognize a company listed on my bill. Who are they, and why are they billing me?
Your bill must include the name and toll-free telephone number of any company that has charged you for its services, along with the charges for those services. If you don’t recognize the company or have questions about the services for which you’ve been billed, call the company to ask for more information.
Some service providers do not bill customers directly, so they contract with local companies to bill for them. These providers send us your usage data electronically, and we use that information to bill on their behalf. Increasingly, telemarketers and con artists are using customers’ phone numbers to post unauthorized and fraudulent charges in the billing data sent to us. These charges can be for many things, but the result is that the charges are included in the data. We have no way to monitor its accuracy. The rules are intended to make sure that the format of your bill helps you identify any unauthorized or fraudulent charges.
Some companies rely on third parties, known as “billing agents” or “aggregators,” to bill for them, so the actual service provider is not always the appropriate party to contact if you have questions or problems. In fact, some providers’ contract with third-party billing agents just to handle inquiry and dispute resolution of the charges placed on your bill. The rules require that the toll-free number listed on your bill as the “inquiry contact” – regardless of who it is – must connect you to someone who has sufficient knowledge and authority” to resolve account inquiries and requests for adjustment. The FCC allows the use of inquiry contacts because of consumer concerns about bill complexity and because of increased fraud and abuse.
Why are the charges from each company listed separately?
The TIB rules require that we organize your bill so that charges from each company billing you for service appear separately. For example, if you have chosen one long-distance company for your regional (intra-LATA) long-distance calls and another for your out-of-region and state-to-state (inter-LATA) calls, your bill lists the calls separately.
A company has listed charges on my bill for telecom services that I do not understand, and the description is unclear. How can I get them explained?
You may find charges on your bill that are not from your local company. The name and toll-free number of the company charging you for telecom services are listed in the section where those charges appear. You should call that company for an explanation. You can also dispute the charges and request that the company remove them from your bill. As your local telecom provider, we remind you that as part of our service commitment, our business office is always available if you have questions about your bill. If you have any difficulty in contacting the service providers listed on your bill, or if you’re not satisfied with the response you get, we’ll help you resolve the problem.
If I want to dispute a charge that appears on my bill – and don’t pay the charge – will my local service be disrupted?
Your bill identifies all charges that if not paid, could result in the disconnection of your basic local service; such services are listed as “deniable” charges. Our Ohio Public Utilities Commission designates the charges we must classify as “deniable,” and we identify those charges on your bill. Non-payment of other, “non-deniable” charges can result in the termination of the specific service, but will not lead to disconnection of local service. If you don’t recognize the charges, you should call the toll-free number listed on your bill within 60 days to ensure there is no interruption of the service in question.
Billing Issues – Cramming
What is cramming?
Telephone numbers are also “account” numbers. Some long-distance companies and other service providers that do not bill customers themselves contract with local companies to bill for them. More and more, telemarketers, con artists, and other criminals are using phone numbers for cramming, the unauthorized, deceptive, and fraudulent posting of charges in the billing information sent to local companies. In essence, cramming refers to any charges you find on your bill for services you did not authorize, order, or receive. Because we do not have the authority to screen the data, we rely strictly on the information sent to us.
The charges commonly found in cramming abuse can be for many things; e.g., voice mail, personal 800 numbers, 900 services, sweepstakes, and other offers. In addition, you may find charges listed for legitimate services, but ones you did not order or authorize, as well as for “fees,” “memberships,” “usage,” or other services described only in general terms – or not at all. Cramming charges are often difficult to identify and can be detected only if you carefully review your bill each month.
I have found charges on my bill for services I did not order or authorize. How do I get these charges removed from my bill?
If there is a charge on your bill that is unauthorized or fraudulent, you don’t have to pay it. But you do have to notice it! If you find a charge on your bill for something you didn’t authorize, call the company that charged you. Ask for an explanation of the charge and request adjustments or refunds for incorrect or unauthorized items. Since company information can often be hard to get, you can also call us. We have procedures in place to help you respond to incorrect charges listed on your bills.
Are there rules in place to protect me against cramming and fraud?
Yes, to combat cramming abuse, the FCC has issued rules known as “Truth-in-Billing” guidelines to help customers review their bills. The rules require service providers to clearly organize their bills and to comply with the following requirements:
- The bill must clearly identify the name of the service provider associated with each charge.
- When two or more service providers appear on the same bill, the charges must be separated by company, and bills must include clear and conspicuous notification of any new service providers.
- Charges listed on the bill must be accompanied by a brief, non-misleading, plain-language description of the services rendered. The description must be sufficiently clear in presentation and specific enough to enable you to accurately assess that the billed services correspond to those you requested and received, and that the charges assessed are consistent with your understanding of the quoted rates.
- The bill must contain clear and conspicuous disclosure of any information that you need to make inquiries about, or contest, the charges. A toll-free number must be displayed to inquire or dispute any charge.
Monthly Charges – Local Service Charges
What is the basic local service rate and how is it billed?
In most cases, the basic local service rate covers dial tone – the connection that allows you to make and receive local (non-toll) calls. Failure to pay the basic local service rate and applicable taxes and fees will result in disconnection and loss of service.
Local telephone service is billed one month in advance – and is usually due within 10-15 days of receipt. Charges for usage, on the other hand, are billed only after a particular service; e.g., long-distance calls, calling-card, wireless, etc., is used.
Monthly Charges – Surcharges
What is the federal “subscriber line charge” (SLC) listed on my bill?
The Federal Communications Commission authorizes local telephone companies to recover a portion of the costs of the facilities we use to connect your home or business for telecom services through a flat, monthly charge assessed on all residential and business customers. Commonly known as the federal “subscriber line charge” (SLC), this assessment is part of the FCC’s effort to support competition in the telecom market. The federal SLC is a flat monthly charge assessed directly on your bill.
Currently, the federal SLCs for residential and single-line business customers are capped at $6.50 per month and at $9.20 per line, per month for multi-line businesses. The FCC established the federal SLC as a way to reduce the “access charges” paid by long-distance companies but still compensate local companies for the use of our networks by long-distance carriers to gain “access” to customers. For competitive purposes, the FCC decided to make end-user customers more directly responsible for the costs incurred in providing them service and that the “access charges” paid by long-distance companies should be reduced. Thus, it is important to note that the SLCs result in no additional revenue for local telephone companies.
What is the Federal Universal Service Charge (FUSC)?
The “Federal Universal Service Charge” (FUSC), also authorized by the FCC, is not part of your local service rate. Rather, the purpose of this charge is to help to keep rates affordable for all Americans, regardless of where they live. The amount of the FUSC on your bill depends on the services you order and the number of telephone lines you have. In most cases, the FUSC is applied as a percentage, which is set by the FCC and varies on a quarterly basis, of the federal SLC you are billed each month.
The federal government maintains national programs to support universal telephone service. The federal Universal Service Fund assists with the costs of providing “affordable” telecommunications service to low-income individuals and to residents in rural, high-cost areas. In addition, Congress has expanded the program to help schools, libraries, and rural health care providers obtain leading-edge services, such as Internet access and high-speed connections. All providers of telecom services contribute to the support of these universal service programs.
Where do the federal SLC and FUSC fees go?
Both the SLC and FUSC fees collected from customers go to federal administrative agencies created by the FCC to oversee and manage the funds. The federal SLC fees are re-distributed to local telephone companies based on their specific costs. These funds enable community based telecom providers serving isolated, high-cost rural areas to recover some of the costs of the facilities used to connect your home or business. The FUSC fees allow local companies and cooperatives to recover our assessments for the federal universal service programs. A portion of the funds collected from the Federal Universal Service Charge is distributed to keep rates in high-cost rural areas at or near the national average.
What does “universal service” mean to me?
Beginning in 1934, the nation made a policy commitment to ensure that telephone service would be available to as many Americans as possible – rich or poor, rural or urban. When Congress passed the original Communications Act, it established the concept of universal service as a principle to promote the development and reach of the national telephone network by distributing costs across various services and users in order to connect all segments of the American public.
Universal service recognizes the economic reality that the cost of providing telephone service in rural areas is significantly higher than in well-populated, urban parts of the country, but that the nation as a whole benefits from a network that connects as many Americans as possible. Universal service can be regarded as a system by which everyone benefits because everyone else has a telephone. Thanks to universal service, community based telecom providers in high-cost rural areas have been assured of appropriate recognition of our business costs, and all Americans have been assured of quality telephone service at reasonable rates, no matter where they live.
How does the universal service support system work?
Traditionally, long-distance carriers paid access charges to local companies for “access” to the local network to enable customers to make or receive long-distance calls. These access-charge dollars reflected a legitimate cost of business, compensating local companies for the long-distance carriers’ use of our networks.
Universal service support and access charge revenues are essential to community based telecom providers. These programs generate revenues that help local companies serving rural areas keep local rates affordable and comparable to rates in urban areas where the population is more densely clustered and costs are not as high. We continue to rely on this support today, given the costs of the equipment and facilities necessary to make new and advanced services available to rural customers.
Do all local telephone companies receive universal service support?
No, all local companies do not qualify for this support. While most telecom providers contribute to the support of universal service, the companies that serve large cities and urban markets are not likely to qualify for federal Universal Service Fund support. Thus, through their SLC and FUSC payments, customers of large urban-based companies are helping to keep local rates “comparable” and “affordable” for those served by community based providers and other rural companies. This mutual social benefit is the very objective that Congress designed universal service to achieve.
Is universal service or its objectives threatened? What can rural customers expect?
Competition, technology, and new federal and state policies have radically altered the way telecom service works and threaten to undermine the objectives of universal service. Without continued resolve to connect all Americans, what has been labeled as “reform” could mean the significant reduction of access-charge revenues and universal service support for community based telecom providers.
If programs designed to protect subscribers in high-cost rural areas fall victim to pro-competitive policies intended to benefit urban markets, the only place for community based providers to make up the lost dollars is through increased local rates. Debates continue in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals across the country about how access charges should be reduced and how universal service should be funded. How these issues are resolved is critical, especially for rural consumers. The answers will affect us all, both as telecom users and as members of rural communities whose economic prosperity depends on continued connection. Universal service remains essential if rural Americans are to remain part of the Internet age. Ironically, these changes mean that community based telecom providers confront obstacles as formidable as those they had to overcome when theyfirst brought service to rural areas. But we are ready for the challenge and remain true to our mission of offering quality service to our customers and playing a vital economic role in our communities.
What does the E 911 surcharge cover?
The E-911 charge is a state/local government charge to fund emergency-911 services, such as police, fire, and rescue.
What taxes are included on my bill?
Your bill includes the 3% federal excise tax levied by the federal government that applies to all telecom services, not just local service. In addition, many state, local, and/or municipal governments impose taxes on telecom services and, if applicable, these taxes are listed on your bill. In some states, these charges may appear as a “gross receipts” or “franchise” tax.
Monthly Charges – Long Distance Charges
What is the Federal Universal Service Charge on my long-distance bill? Do all long distance companies charge the same fee?
This charge (also called the Universal Connectivity Fee or Carrier Universal Service Charge) is similar to the FUSC for local service. All telecom providers, including long-distance companies, are required to contribute to the support of federal universal service.
Federal regulators are responsible for assessing the long-distance FUSC, on a quarterly basis, as a percentage (to date, in a range of 10% to 11%) of your state-to-state and international toll charges. The FCC prohibits any telecom provider from charging a percentage above the mandatory federal level. However, the FCC does allow companies to include additional “administrative” or “regulatory” fees on customers’ bills, and many of the large national long-distance companies do so.
My long-distance bill includes a “one-bill” charge? How can I get my local and long-distance charges on a single bill without being charged?
Some long-distance companies charge a monthly fee to combine long-distance charges and local charges on the same bill. These companies include the charge in the billing information they submit to the local company with whom they contract to bill for them. A local company that bills for a long-distance company does not authorize a one-bill fee.
With most community based telecom providers offering long-distance service, customers who want their local and long-distance charges on one combined bill can select their local, long-distance provider as their preferred carrier. Long distance service provided by these companies generally offer rates and plans comparable to those of national carriers. At the same time, community based companies offer the advantage of a long-distance alternative closer to home – with service from people you know and trust.
I’m confused about the rates I’ve been charged for my long-distance calls? How are my 1+ calls charged?
Your bill lists charges for the individual long-distance calls you’ve made using the long-distance company you’ve chosen as your preferred, 1+ carrier. Long distance rates differ significantly depending on the type of call you make; i.e., out of region (state-to-state) or regional; inter-LATA or intra-LATA. Historically, calls have generally been priced based on duration and time-of-day, but this pricing scheme is quickly becoming a thing of the past (see following section). Most long distance companies have “basic rate” service (no calling plan) with rates that are higher than those featured in their calling plans, which offer reduced per-minute rates, but require a monthly “buy-in” fee that remains constant regardless of the number of 1+ calls a customer makes.
Why can’t I get service from the long-distance company I want? And, why can’t I get the long-distance rate plans I see advertised?
Many national long-distance companies do not offer service or their advertised rate plans in rural areas. Thus, many of our customers find only frustration when they try to select a long-distance company or pick an advertised calling plan. When customers ask for an explanation, the long-distance companies usually point to the “local” company as the reason why certain services or advertised plans are not available.
As your local telecom provider, we’d like to make it clear that we have no say in a company’s decision to offer service in our area For a long-distance carrier to provide service here, it must request that we program our switching facilities to recognize its “identification” code. If the long-distance company does not make the request, we cannot process the call. Calling plans and rates are even more direct issues. Long distance rates and calling plans are unique only in pricing; there are no technical or service-related factors that require a local company to play any role at all in a long-distance company’s decision to make a calling plan available to certain customers or in certain areas. The only decision is the long-distance company’s willingness to offer its plan wherever and to whomever it chooses.
Even if you can get an advertised long-distance plan, you must be careful to read and understand all terms and conditions before you can expect to see the “5-cent anytime” benefits. Thus, you must still look closely at the fine print, or you may wind up surprised by higher rates than expected and additional charges.
Are there alternatives to the national long-distance companies? Can I continue to get one bill for my local and long-distance charges?
Most community based telecom providers provide their customers a long-distance option that’s “closer to home.” If rural customers were to have real choice in long-distance service, we concluded that it would have to come locally… from here in the community … from your local telecom provider. So, that’s what we did. We offer long-distance service not only with competitive rates and calling plans, but also with the advantage of the one-to-one service quality you expect from a company based here in the community made up of your friends and neighbors, not remote service centers and 800 numbers. We’re proud to offer you a long-distance choice and to provide you the continued convenience of one bill for all your telecom needs.
What’s the difference between per-minute long-distance rates and the new nationwide calling packages I see?
As a result of advances in technology and the growing popularity of wireless calling plans, the use of “per-minute” rates to charge for long-distance calling is on the wane. Wireless plans have made “nationwide calling minutes” the popular standard for customers, and Internet-based transmission technologies are making calling rates based on time and type of call (interstate or intrastate) meaningless; i.e., voice communication is becoming more a “commodity” service in which calls are considered the same, regardless of when the call is made and where it originates and terminates
Many long-distance providers are transitioning from the traditional per-minute rate structure they’ve used for toll (long-distance) calling. Similar to the nationwide/regional packages of minutes included in wireless plans, long-distance providers are now offering calling plans with a flat-rate charge for varying minutes of customers’ local and “nationwide” calling. In such plans, the monthly charge usually includes unlimited local calling and reduced rates for the covered amount of nationwide minutes, anywhere in the U.S. – interstate (state-to-state), intrastate (within the state), and regional (toll calls within the calling area) – with no restrictions on calling times. In addition, some community based providers are packaging flat-rate plans with prices that include the authorized monthly federal and state universal service surcharges.
Monthly Charges – Slamming
What is slamming?
The FCC has given state regulatory commissions the responsibility to investigate and resolve customer complaints about unauthorized changes to their preferred local and/or long-distance carrier(s) – if a state commission declines, the FCC assumes responsibility. All carriers, local and long-distance, must comply with the rules on preferred carrier changes. The states have the option to administer the preferred carrier change rules, and can do so either through the state regulatory commission or another agency charged with resolving unauthorized changes. Because either the state or the FCC may be the administrator, the rules refer to the responsible agency as the “relevant governmental agency” (RGA).
You have the right to choose any certified long-distance carrier that offers you service and to change your preferred carrier (PIC) whenever you wish. Slamming is the unauthorized and illegal switching of a customer’s preferred long-distance company. If you’ve been slammed, you have the right to be switched back to your chosen carrier at no cost.
I have been billed for long-distance charges from a company I did not choose as my preferred carrier. What do I do to get these charges removed from my bill?
Customers who believe they’ve been slammed; i.e., that there has been an unauthorized change in their PIC selection, should inform us immediately. Once we receive notification of an unauthorized PIC change, we will do the following:
- Notify you that there is a 30-day absolution period and that you should not pay those charges on your bill.
- Refer you to the RGA (state regulatory commission or FCC Consumer Information Bureau, whichever applies).
- Immediately notify your authorized carrier; i.e., your preferred carrier prior to the alleged slamming, and identify the unauthorized carrier.
- Immediately notify the unauthorized carrier; i.e., the current PIC as a result of the switch, and identify the authorized carrier.
NOTE: Community based telecom providers should make available to their CSRs the telephone number of the PUC or RGA (if different), or the FCC’s Consumer Information Bureau (if applicable).
What will the RGA do when an unauthorized PIC change is reported?
The FCC rules require that:
- Any carrier informed by a customer of an unauthorized PIC change must direct the customer to the relevant governmental agency (RGA).
- After receiving a complaint, the RGA will notify the alleged unauthorized carrier and order that the carrier remove from the customer’s bill all unpaid charges for the first 30 days after the unauthorized change (slam) took place, pending determination of whether an unauthorized change has actually occurred.
- Within 30 days of notification, the alleged unauthorized carrier must provide to the RGA valid proof of verification of the customer’s PIC change, which must comply with the FCC’s authorization and verification rules.
- Failure by the carrier to respond or provide proof of verification will be presumed to be clear and convincing evidence of an unauthorized change (slam).
- If the RGA determines that an unauthorized change (slam) has occurred, it will order the unauthorized carrier to comply with the 30-day absolution rule and/or the reimbursement rules.
What if I’ve already paid the unauthorized carrier? Can I get reimbursed for charges incurred during the first 30 days? What about unpaid charges incurred after the 30-day absolution period?
If it is determined that an unauthorized change (slam) has occurred and the customer has already made payment to the unauthorized carrier for charges incurred in the first 30 days, the customer is entitled to a refund equal to 50% of the charges paid. The authorized carrier must remit the 50% refund to the customer within 10 days of receiving payment from the unauthorized carrier. The customer has the option of requesting that the authorized carrier re-bill the unauthorized charges at the authorized carrier’s rate. In either case, however, the customer will actually receive the refund only if the unauthorized carrier remits the funds to the authorized carrier.
If the customer has charges from an unauthorized carrier for calls made after the 30-day absolution period and for which payment has not been made, the unauthorized carrier must remove the charges from the bill and forward the billing information to the authorized carrier. The authorized carrier will bill the customer for unpaid calls carried by the unauthorized carrier after the 30-day absolution period, either at its own rate or at a rate equal to 50% of the unauthorized carrier’s rate. If the authorized carrier chooses to bill the calls at the 50% rate, the customer has the right to reject that method and request the authorized rate.
How can I prevent being slammed?
First, always check your bill carefully. If you find charges from a long-distance company that you don’t recognize or didn’t choose as your preferred carrier, chances are you’ve been slammed. Contact us, and we’ll help you resolve the problem.
Remember, it is against the law for any carrier to submit a change of your selection of a service provider that does not comply with prescribed procedures. In more basic terms, the FCC has issued specific rules to discourage slamming. You should note, however, that these same rules prohibit local telephone companies from verifying the change orders submitted by long-distance carriers. As a service to customers, we provide an extra level of slamming protection for you – in the form of a “preferred carrier freeze.”
What is a preferred carrier freeze?
Community based telecom providers offer customers protection from slamming and unauthorized changes in their long distance company; that is by choosing a PIC (Preferred Interexchange Carrier) Freeze. By notifying us that you wish to “freeze” your long-distance company or companies (if you have selected one company as your inter-LATA [out-of-region] PIC and another for your intra-LATA [regional] PIC), you can avoid being slammed. If you request a PIC freeze on your long-distance service, your preferred carrier cannot be changed without your direct authorization, either written or verbal. There is no charge for this service – all you need to do is sign a PIC Freeze form. If you’d like to take advantage of this protection, just call our business office, and a Customer Representative will help you.
To protect against slamming, local telephone companies offer a preferred carrier (PIC) freeze, which prevents any change being made to your selection of a “preferred” long-distance provider without your expressed consent to lift the freeze. We make PIC freezes available to customers, regardless of the company selected as the preferred long-distance carrier, and comply with various requirements on the materials we send out about PIC freezes. In addition to specific information about any charges, we also include a clear explanation and description of the specific procedures necessary for you to lift the freeze.
You must request separate PIC freezes for: (1) regional (intra-LATA/intrastate) long-distance service, and (2) state-to-state (interstate/inter-LATA) and international long-distance service. We must obtain separate authorizations for each service for which you request a freeze.
How are freeze orders accepted?
The FCC requires that customers be able to impose (or lift) a PIC freeze by contacting their local telephone company. Local companies may not accept freeze orders from a carrier on your behalf. You can make a PIC change and a PIC freeze at the same time, but in such cases, we must verify both your carrier change and freeze requests.
Are separate authorizations required for multiple services?
Yes, separate authorizations are required for each service for which you request a PIC freeze. You have the option of using any authorization and verification method allowed by the FCC; i.e., a written Letter of Authorization (LOA), third-party verification, or Internet/online LOA.