Phone Bill Charges
The State Corporation Commission receives calls from Virginians with questions and complaints about the list of fees appearing on local telephone bills. The various taxes, fees and surcharges can amount to a significant portion of the total monthly bill for basic local telephone service.
The following surcharges appear on most residential telephone bills in Virginia. However, they do not fall under the direct regulatory authority of the SCC. (Links to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or other agency for additional information are shown where applicable):
Virginia Communication Sales Tax
This 5 percent communications tax is collected by service providers on a monthly basis and remitted to the Virginia Department of Taxation.
Subscriber Line Charge ("SLC," pronounced "slick")
This is an end-user fee paid to local telephone companies that is allowed by the FCC. It can be as much as $6.50 per month for residential lines. This charge is intended to allow local telephone companies to recover a portion of the interstate costs associated with a subscriber’s local telephone line to access the interstate long distance network. It helps keep interstate long distance rates low. The State Corporation Commission has not established a similar intrastate charge.
Universal Service Charges
Telephone subscribers also may be seeing charges on their local, long distance and cellular bills for universal service. Companies are required by the FCC to contribute to a federal universal service fund to support telephone service for high-cost areas, low-income subscribers, schools, libraries, and rural health care providers. Even though the FCC did not direct these companies to pass these charges along to their customers, many have chosen to do so. These universal service fees vary by amount and structure, and by company.
Public Rights-of-Way Fee
A law passed by the 1998 Virginia General Assembly authorizes this monthly charge (currently $1.01 per line) to appear on customer bills in some parts of the Commonwealth. The fee pays for telephone company access to the rights-of-way of public property. City and County governments and the Virginia Department of Transportation incur expenses when phone companies need to disturb streets and highways to install or repair lines.
Authorized by the Virginia General Assembly, this 75¢-per-line tax is imposed by localities to pay for the cost of an emergency response communications system that identifies both the caller and the location of the call. The General Assembly also authorized a 75¢ per month charge on wireless telephone customers. This money will pay for highly sophisticated equipment that pinpoints, by satellite, the location of a wireless 911 caller.
Like many other goods and services purchased by consumers, certain telephone services are taxed by federal, state and local governments. These taxes vary by locality and level of phone usage.
Consumer Alert: Watch for unknown charges
Telephone customers should carefully scrutinize their monthly local phone bill for charges from unknown entities for unwanted services or products. Local telephone companies often bill for long distance companies and other companies that provide non-regulated and non-telecommunications services and products. As a result, customers may discover they have been "slammed" - switched from their long distance service provider or local service provider without authorizing the change, or “crammed” - charged for services and products that were never requested.
Customers should contact their local telephone company to have any such charges removed from their bill, or to be switched back to their preferred long distance company. Consumers can protect themselves from unauthorized charges by requesting a third party block from their local service provider. Customers should expect their local telephone service provider to capably answer all questions about charges that appear on the monthly bill. (If questions involve long distance charges of another company, in some cases customers may need to call that company directly.) If a customer is not satisfied with the response, then the State Corporation Commission’s Division of Public Utility Regulation can offer assistance. The toll-free number is 1-800-552-7945, or the division can be contacted directly, (804) 371-9611, or by e-mail at UtilityReg@scc.virginia.gov.