Why are telephone rates in rural areas generally lower than those in urban areas?
The price of telephone service has traditionally been based on the idea
that the more people you can reach on a local basis, that is without paying long distance
charges, the more valuable the service. Accordingly, since telephone customers in more rural
areas of the Commonwealth can generally reach fewer people on a local basis, the price for
rural service is lower than those areas with more expansive “free” calling areas. For example,
in some areas of Virginia, telephone customers can call a few thousand numbers locally,
whereas, in other areas, like northern Virginia, customers can reach over a million
telephone customers without incurring long distance charges.
Why are some services regulated and others not? What are some examples of each?
Historical precedent as well as market necessity helped to define regulated services.
Prior to 1984, telephone services were generally regulated by two authorities; the Federal
Communications Commission and the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Regulated services
include the basic local dial tone line, call waiting and caller ID. Examples of competitive, or
non rate-regulated, services include long distance, voice mail, Internet and paging.
What gives the local telephone service provider the right to come on my property?
Easements and rights-of-way give telephone utilities access to a customer’s property.
Easements and rights-of-way are normally negotiated between property owners (or developers) and
telephone utilities when service is first installed in the area. The parameters of the rights-of-way
should be recorded at your local courthouse, and should be indicated on surveyor mappings of your
property. Generally, telephone companies cannot place lines or equipment outside of the recorded
easements without the permission of the current property owner.
Who decides whether a local telephone provider has condemnation rights?
Virginia law grants the power of eminent domain to public service and certain limited
liability companies pursuant to Section 56.49 of the Code of Virginia.
Why am I charged to change my long distance provider?
Local telephone companies impose a charge to recover the programming costs
associated with making a change to a customer’s long distance carrier selection. Frequently,
long distance carriers may reimburse this charge as an incentive to gain new customers.
This charge is called the presubscribed interexchange carrier-change charge
(PIC-change charge), and was established in 1983 as part of the Federal Communication Commission’s
(FCC) efforts to open the interstate long distance market to competition. In 1984, the
FCC established a $5 maximum which telephone companies are allowed to levy for PIC-change charges.
Even if I don’t declare a long distance provider, why do I pay a subscriber line charge (SLC)?
This charge is to recover the cost of the permanent connections between
the customer and the public long distance network, whether or not a customer makes long
distance calls. This charge was authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
in the mid-1980s and is one reason that interstate long distance calls are generally less
expensive than in-state long distance calls.
Why is the local service carrier billing for long distance?
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required that billing and collection services
be rendered by the local telephone company through negotiated billing arrangements. Many long
distance companies have subsequently created their own billing systems and therefore no longer
rely on the local telephone company to bill on their behalf.
What precautions should I take when making an operator assisted local or long distance call?
Rates for operator assisted calls, whether automated or through a live operator,
have risen dramatically over the last several years. In fact, charges of $5 to upwards of $30
for calls lasting a few minutes are not unusual. If you are unsure of the cost of making an
operator assisted call, especially from a pay telephone, ask the operator for a rate quote
prior to completing the call. One option is to use a prepaid calling card, instead of an
operator. Some prepaid calling cards have rates of a few pennies per minute. A prepaid
calling card is almost certain to save you money if used at a pay telephone instead of
placing an operator-assisted call.
Who decides to change my area code?
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 gave the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) jurisdiction over the telephone numbering plan in the United States. However, the FCC
delegated this authority to state regulatory commissions to resolve matters involving
implementing new area codes. The Virginia State Corporation Commission has been very active
in this area.
What gives local service providers the right to bill in advance?
The Virginia State Corporation Commission some years ago allowed advance
billing to ensure that utility companies had the required amount of cash for working capital.
Without it, local rates would have been higher. Today, even with a competitive environment,
the practice of advanced billing continues and is governed by tariff.
How can my apartment owner or a developer limit my selection options
for local or long distance?
There is nothing that prohibits a property owner or developer from entering
into a contract with a specific telecommunications provider. Other providers may not be denied
access to the development or apartment complex; however, the telecommunications provider itself
may choose not to offer service based on its costs to provide the service. Before renting or
buying, you should first check with your apartment owner or developer to see if access to
all telephone companies is allowed.
If I have a service problem with my telephone, where does the local telephone company’s responsibility end and mine begin?
Technically speaking, the line is drawn at the network interface device (NID).
The NID is usually a gray or beige box outside your home or apartment. The NID should provide
access for you to plug in a telephone to see if service to your house is working. If the telephone
works from the NID but not from within your house, it usually means the problem is in your inside
What happens if I have trouble with my telephone wire inside the house
and I don’t subscribe to an inside wire maintenance plan?
Inside wire maintenance is the responsibility of the customer.
You can also choose among the various monthly inside wire maintenance plans offered by telephone
service providers. Inside wire problems are generally rare, so even if you don't have an inside
wire maintenance plan, you can hire the telephone service provider, hire another contractor, or
repair it yourself if you have a problem. If you choose not to have an inside wire maintenance
plan and use the telephone provider or a contractor you can generally expect to pay for time
and materials. If you are establishing new service or changing providers, and plan to subscribe
to an inside wire maintenance plan, ask when the plan takes effect.
How can I decrease the number of solicitation calls that I receive?
You could start by asking the calling party to place you on a “Do-Not-Call” list.
Other cost-free suggestions are to utilize the assistance of the National Do-Not-Call Registry
made available by a joint effort of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications
(This registry is accessible via the web at www.donotcall.gov.) You may also register
by phone by calling from the phone number you wish to register to (888) 382-1222. Virginia’s Office
of the Attorney General provides additional information on your rights regarding telemarketing
There are other options that include a cost. These vary from subscribing
to non-published or non-list service from your local phone company to the purchase of specific
equipment or services that automatically block unwanted calls. Should you wish to obtain further
information regarding the rules established for telemarketers, contact the Federal Communications
Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.