Getting nickeled and dimed?

Here's how phone companies are simplifying your phone bill Karen Gutloff

tax, this tax is imposed by your city or county to raise money to pay for local services.

  • The portion of the phone bill that includes fees for long-distance service contains two new charges consumers should understand.
  • Federal universal service fee. This fee appears courtesy of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act requires all long-distance companies to put money into a fund that provides schools and libraries with Internet service. Money from this universal service fund also helps provide poor people and those in rural areas with affordable phone service. Long-distance carriers have chosen to get money from the phone customer for the fund by charging a Federal Universal Service fee. MCI, for example, bills customers 5% of their state-to-state and international calls. Sprint charges 4.5% of a customer’s interstate and international calls, while AT&T bills customers a flat rate of 93 cents.
  • National access fee. Carriers like MCI, Sprint and AT&T must pay your local phone company a fee to use lines in order to start and stop long-distance phone calls. That fee is passed on to consumers through the national access fee. MCI’s flat rate for the access fee is $1.07, while Sprint and AT&T charge 85 cents.

    If charges appear on your bill that you don’t understand, call the phone company and have a billing agent walk you through the fees. If you’re still unsatisfied, you can file a complaint with the FCC. For interstate or international complaints, write to: Federal Communications Commission, Common Carrier Bureau, Consumer Complaints, Mail Stop Code 1600A2, Washington, DC 20554. For intrastate complaints, contact your state’s Public utility Commission.

    Don’t Get Crammed
    Scams and phony charges involving phone service are on the rise, which makes it more important than ever for consumers to carefully read their phone bills. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Consumer’s League, a practice called “cramming” is the No.1 complaint on its consumer fraud hotline (800-876-7060). That’s when telemarketers slip charges for such services as pagers and personal 800 numbers into your phone bill without your authorization. The more you understand the routine charges on your bill, the easier it is to spot unauthorized fees that may pop up.

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