Recently when I received my cell phone bill, I decided to take a look at exactly what I am paying for. And reading the breakdown just confused me. What in the world are some of these charges for and how do they benefit consumers? The Federal Communications Commission, FCC, requires service providers to clearly spell out certain charges. Telecommunication companies should make it very clear exactly what you are paying for. Some fees apply to both your landline and cell phones. Just in case there is still some confusion, here is your cellphone charges cheat sheet!
1) Universal Service Charges: Every telecommunications service provider as well as some providers of telecommunications is required to contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund. This fund is to support access to telecommunication services for people residing in high-cost and rural areas, rural health care facilities, consumers who are income eligible, libraries and schools at rates within reason. So, if you see a Universal Service charge on your bill, that means your phone company is passing onto you the collecting of the USF contributions for their customers. Telecommunication providers do not have to pass this charge onto their customers but it is legal to do so. It is usually a charge which is a percentage of your bill but phone companies are not allowed to collect an amount that goes over the percentage of funds they are to contribute to the USF. If you are receiving Lifeline you cannot be charged.
2) 911, Telecommunications Relay Service and Local Number Portability: The 911 charge is pretty straightforward. You are charged by local government to contribute towards emergency services in your area.
The Telecommunications Relay Service charge is to help towards the cost of relay services which transmit and translate calls. This service is for people with speech and hearing disabilities.
Local Number Portability charges are not a tax but rather a fee to retain at the same location existing telephone numbers when someone is switching service providers. The fees for this are different between companies and some service providers don’t apply this fee at all.
3) Monthly Calling Plan Charge: This is a charge that is applicable to any service where you have a monthly calling plan, for example unlimited minutes.
4) Features Charges: If you enjoy having things like your call forwarding feature, voice mail, Caller ID or three-way calling you may have additional charges added to your bill.
5) Airtime Charges: This is a charge for wireless voice calls. Each plan is different and I recommend getting the details to your particular plan. It’s based on minutes used and some providers will round up minutes to the next highest minute or even the second and third minutes.
6) Roaming: Be sure to know your service area or the definition of your network. This charge can be applied if you roam outside of that particular area and additionally, charges like a daily access fee can also apply.
7) Downloading Fees: Before downloading apps and options like ring tones make sure you check on possible charges. Also, you may be charged for data plans.
8) Access Charges: You may be billed for a percentage of the costs telephone companies pay for providing access to their local network. These charges are not a tax nor are they a government charge. There is a maximum access fee allowed. Telephone companies can charge you less or they can not apply a charge at all. Other access charges to look for are: Federal Access Charge, Customer or Subscriber Line Charge and Interstate Access Charge to name a few.
9) Text Messaging: Again, a pretty straight forward fee. Be sure to know if your plan charges per text message or if you have unlimited texting for a flat fee.
10) Detailed Billing: Yep, you can be charged for detailed billing information on your calls. Information such as the date and time of the call, the length, who you called and the number.
If you plan on traveling internationally, I highly recommend you contact your carrier before leaving. Find out their international plans and be specific as to the cities you will be traveling to. Some carriers have flat rates you can pay for with unlimited text messaging or special per-minute plans. Don’t wait until you get to your destination to set-up this up otherwise you may get a bill with a whole other set of fees!