The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lies, damned lies, and mandated government charges on your phone bill

The whole DSL fiasco stemmed from a misunderstanding between Spring and The Monopolistic Phone Company. She felt that she was paying too much for our use of phone, when all we really use it for is DSL. When it was finally resolved, I told Spring that I wanted to see the next phone bill.

Total Current Charges (Due May 27) … $50.30

Odd, considering Spring signed us up for the $13.22/month basic service plan only includes local calling—no other options (including long distance) are part of this plan.

I went over the bill line by line and I finally understand how The Monopolistic Phone Company arrived at such a figure.

First off, the billing period actually covers April–May, and May–June, so it's two months. Even so, it's still twice as much as one would expect. Well, $3.35 of that is due to a miscommunication about what plan we signed up for. Another $5.86 fell under the Government Mandated and Authorized Charges, and break down thusly:

Government Mandated and Authorized Charges
Line # Charge Amount  
5 Charge for Increase in Rates for Federal Universal Service Charge, Due to Changes in the Rules of the FCC (04/06/07–05/05/07) ($.13/mo) .13  
6 Federal Excise Tax 1.34  
7 FL—State Communications Tax 1.06  
8 FL—Local Communications Tax 2.68  
9 Telecommunications Access System Act Surcharge .15 **
10 Emergency 911 Charge. This charge is billed on behalf of Palm Bc Unic County .50 **

The Federal Excise Tax (thank you so much President Clinton for vetoing the repeal of this tax) is 3%. It was a bit confusing, but the two Floria Communications Tax rates are 2.37% for the state taxes (residents are exempt from the state portion of the communications tax, but are subject to the state gross receipts) and 6.02% for the local taxes.

Line 5 is because The Monopolistic Phone Company forgot to bill us at the higher Federal Universal Service Charge Rate for April (it appears to have gone up on April 1st—ha ha–from 63¢ to 76¢).

And lines 9 and 10? Here's what The Monopolistic Phone Company says about those lines:

If you do not pay the rest of your bill, which includes unregulated charges—all of which are identified by ** on your bill:

So, I could avoid paying 65¢ but my (well, Spring's, since the phone is in her name) credit rating will go to hell.


And then there's $14.65 worth of charges:

Surcharges and Other Fees
Line # Charge Amount  
11 Fed Univ Svc Chg ($.63/mo) [note—this is the old rate —Editor] .61  
12 FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access ($6.50/mo) [aka Subscriber Line Charge —Editor] 6.28  
13 Storm Recovery Fee .50  
14 FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access 6.50  
15 Federal Universal Service Charge .76  

[I should note that the bill doesn't quite cover the entire month of April, so that's why some of the figures are a few cents low —Editor]

Hmmm … I'm curious about that “FCC Authorized Charge for Network Services” (also known as the “Subscriber Line Charge”) there. Let's see what the Government has to say about it:

What is the Subscriber Line Charge and why do I have to pay this charge?

The Subscriber Line Charge is a fee that you pay to your local phone company that connects you to the telephone network. Local telephone companies recover some of the costs of telephone lines connected to your home or business through this monthly charge on your local telephone bill. Sometimes called the federal subscriber line charge, this fee is regulated and capped by the FCC, not by state Public Utility Commissions. It is not a tax or a fee charged by the government. The money received from the subscriber line charge goes directly to local telephone companies. To ensure that all Americans can afford at least a minimal level of basic telephone service, the FCC will not allow phone companies to charge more than $6.50 for a single line. More information on the Subscriber Line Charge and other charges on your phone bill.

FCC Telephone FAQ

Isn't that already part of the $13.22/month price we're paying?

Oh wait … there's a definitions part of the bill:

FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access

A charge to recover costs associated with connecting to a telecommunications service provider's interstate network. [emphasis added —Editor]

The $13.22/month plan does not include long distance. In fact, in another part of the bill:

You have elected not to choose a local toll carrier for XXX-XXXX

You have elected not to choose an InterLATA Long Distance Carrier for XXXX-XXXX

We're not making interstate network calls from our phone. So I don't see how the FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access applies in either case. I'd like to hear their spin on this.




“Welcome to The Monopolistic Phone Company; we don't have to care. For English, press one—”


“Please enter the phone number on the account you are calling about.”

Beep beep beep Beep beep beep boop boop beep boop.

“To pay your outstanding balance, please press one. To hear your outstanding balance, please press two. To avoid us from having a real live human to talk to you, please press three. Please press four. … Oh, all right, to wait for the slight chance that you'll even talk to a human, please press five. To hear these options again, please—”


“You may have to give the phone number of the account you are calling about again because we're The Monopolistic Phone Company; we don't have to care.” Five minutes of classical music. I wonder if the RIAA knows about this?

“Hello?” It's a human! Fantasitic!

“Yes, I'm here,” I said.

“Whom am I speaking to?”


“Okay, and what account do you have a question about?”

“The number is XXXXXXXXXXX and the name on the account is Spring Bew.” Yes, the last name is incorrect on the account, but Spring said not to bother changing it since the account is just for DSL anyway.

“Okay, and what is your question?”

I mentioned the miscommunication about which plan we signed up for, and over the course of half an hour of listening to classical music, I was able to recover the #3.35, so that's good. Then I asked them about the “FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access.” “What is that all about?”

“It's a Federal mandated charge for connecting to our network, sir.”

“But I checked the FCC website,” I said. “And it says, ’it is not a tax or a fee charged by the government. The money received from the subscriber line charge goes directly to local telephone companies.’ So, how is that any different than the $13.22 you're charging for the account?”

“It's different, sir, because it's a state mandated charge.”

“A state mandated charge?” What? First it's Federal, now it's state? Methinks the operator knows not what we're talking about.


“Even though it's from the FCC?”

“It's a state mandated charge.”

“But how is that any different than charging me $13.22 for connecting to the network?”

“It's mandated by the state. If you want, you can call the FCC about it.”

“Okay … ”

“The phone number is 1-888-225-5322.”

“Thank you.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No, that's it.” And the call was ended.

Okay, let's see what the FCC has to say about this.

Fifteen minutes of navigating through the FCC phone system, and listening to a definition of the “FCC Authorized Charge for Network Access,” I was able to talk to an actual human there (and for any RIAA moles out there, the FCC phone system plays no music whatsoever when on hold). The operator was sympathetic to what I was saying, but said that the advertising practices The Monopolistic Phone Company engaged in, selling a $13.22/mo plan and tacking on an addtional $6.50/mo, wasn't illegal (note, didn't say “legal”—there's a subtle difference there). It's also not “mandated.” It's optional, and the local phone company can charge nothing for this, but if they do, they can only charge up to $6.50 (more if there are additional lines or a commercial business).

But note that word there—“optional.”

The operator was also surprised when I mentioned that The Monopolistic Phone Company told me it was a state mandated charge. “Congress and the FCC set that charge,” I was told. “You might get some answers if you call the State Public Service Commission. The number is 1-800-342-3552.”

“That's the number for Florida, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“Thanks,” I said. And that call was ended.

Now, on to the Public Service Commission.

Oh, they were closed by the time I got around to calling them.

Guess this will have to wait until tomorrow then.

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