FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A: The national Do-Not-Call Registry applies to all telemarketers (with the exception of certain non-profit and political organizations) and covers both interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls. Commercial telemarketers are not allowed to call you if your number is listed on the registry.
Consumers may register their residential telephone number, including wireless numbers, on the national Do-Not-Call Registry at no cost by telephone or on the Internet. To register by telephone, you should call 1-888-382-1222. For TTY, call 1-866-290-4236. You must call from the phone number you wish to register. You may also register by Internet at www.donotcall.gov. Inclusion of your telephone number on the national Do-Not-Call Registry will be effective within 31 days of registration.
Q: ARE THERE PROGRAMS AVAILABLE TO HELP MAKE TELEPHONE SERVICE MORE AFFORDABLE FOR LOW-INCOME CUSTOMERS? HOW IS ELIGIBILITY DETERMINED, AND WHERE CAN I APPLY?
A: Federal and state lawmakers believe that every person in America should have access to quality, affordable telecommunications service. If you participate in social programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, the national school free-lunch program, or supplemental security income, or if your household income is below a certain threshold level, you may qualify for a discount on your telephone bill. This "universal service" system includes:
- Lifeline assistance – provides discounts for basic monthly local telephone service
- Toll Limitation Service – allows you to control your long-distance charges
Eligibility for these programs varies by federal and state guidelines. To find out whether you qualify, you need to fill out standard forms available at our office and other state and local government offices in the area. While we participate in these federal- and state-based support programs, we are not responsible for determining who qualifies, and therefore who receives assistance. Customers must meet specific, pre-determined regulations in order to obtain assistance with their local telephone service.
For more information about Lifeline, contact South Carolina's Office of Regulatory Staff toll-free at 866-788-6565 or visit the Office of Regulatory Staff's website.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR BILL
A: The Federal Communications Commission authorizes local telephone companies to recover a portion of the costs of the facilities we use to connect your home or business for services through a monthly assessment on all residential and business customers. The federal "subscriber line charge" (SLC) assessment is part of the FCC's effort to support competition in the telecom market. The federal SLC is a flat monthly charge assessed directly on your bill.
The federal SLCs for residential and single-line business customers are capped at $6.50 per month, and at $9.20 per line, per month for multi-line businesses. The federal SLCs result in no additional revenue for Chesnee Communications.
A: The "Federal Universal Service Charge" (FUSC), also authorized by the FCC, is not part of your local service rate. The purpose of this charge is to help to keep rates affordable for all Americans, regardless of where they live. The amount of the FUSC on your monthly bill depends on the services you order and the number of telephone lines you have. In most cases, the FUSC is applied as a percentage, which is set by the FCC and varies on a quarterly basis, of the federal SLC you are billed each month.
The federal Universal Service Fund assists with the costs of providing "affordable" telecom service to low-income individuals and to residents in rural, high-cost areas. In addition, the program helps schools, libraries, and rural health care providers obtain leading-edge services, such as high-speed Internet access. All providers of telecom services contribute to the support of these universal service programs.
A: Both the SLC and FUSC fees collected from customers go to federal administrative agencies created by the FCC to oversee and manage the funds. The federal SLC fees are re-distributed to local telephone companies based on their specific costs. These funds enable community based telecom providers serving high-cost rural areas to recover some of the costs of the facilities used to connect your home or business. The FUSC fees allow us to recover our assessments for the federal universal service programs. A portion of the funds collected from the Federal Universal Service Charge is distributed to keep rates in high-cost rural areas at or near the national average.
Q: WHAT IS THE FEDERAL UNIVERSAL SERVICE CHARGE ON MY LONG-DISTANCE BILL? DO ALL LONG-DISTANCE COMPANIES CHARGE THE SAME FEE?
A: This charge (also called the Universal Connectivity Fee or Carrier Universal Service Charge) is similar to the FUSC for local service. All telecom providers, including long-distance companies, are required to contribute to the support of federal universal service.
Federal regulators are responsible for assessing the long-distance FUSC, on a quarterly basis, as a percentage (to date, in a range of 10% to 11%) of your state-to-state and international charges. The FCC prohibits any telecom provider from charging a percentage above the mandatory federal level. However, the FCC does allow companies to include additional "administrative" or "regulatory" fees on customers' bills, and many of the large national long-distance companies do so.
A: In addition to federal programs, some states collect fees to support their own universal service programs. Like other telecom providers in the state, Chesnee Communications collects fees for the South Carolina Universal Service Fund that is administered by our Public Service Commission. The state Universal Service Charge supports universal service programs within our state. Most, if not all, telecom providers in the state contribute to the South Carolina Universal Service Fund to help keep local rates affordable for all state residents.
The South Carolina PSC authorizes telecom providers to recover their universal service contributions through a customer surcharge. The PSC uses the South Carolina Universal Service Fund to ensure that companies in high-cost areas have sufficient financial support to keep local rates affordable for all South Carolina residents. As with federal support programs, the state Universal Service Fund is distributed to companies based on the costs we incur in serving our individual areas of the state.
A: The E-911 charge is a state/local government charge to fund emergency-911 services, such as police, fire, and rescue.
A: Telecom providers are required to allow customers to keep their existing telephone numbers when they switch from one service provider to another. The Local Number Portability (LNP) charge is a fixed, monthly charge established by the FCC to allow local companies to recover some of our costs to provide number "portability" to customers.
A: Local telephone companies offer Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) to help hearing- or speech-impaired individuals communicate via the telephone. TRS is required by Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act and to the extent possible, must be "functionally equivalent" to standard telephone services. Communications assistants (CAs) relay the content of calls between users of special text telephones (TTYs) and users of traditional telephones. For example, a TTY user can use the phone by calling a TRS provider (or relay center), where a CA will place the call to the voice user and relay the conversation by transcribing spoken content for the TTY user and reading text aloud for the voice user.
TRS also includes Video Relay Service (VRS) that provides a video link to allow a CA to view and interpret sign language and IP Relay Service that enables two-way communication between an individual using a non-voice terminal device (e.g., a computer) and an individual using a standard voice telephone.
Costs for intrastate TRS (that is, TRS calls made within a state) are paid by the individual states. Generally, states recover the TRS costs through a small assessment on telephone customers in the state. The TRS charge is used to fund the relay centers and special equipment that assist hearing- and speech-impaired persons to communicate. Costs for interstate TRS (state-to-state TRS calls) are paid through the Interstate TRS Fund, which is supported through contributions from all interstate carriers.
UNIVERSAL SERVICE EXPLAINED
A. In 1934, the nation made a commitment to ensure that telephone service would be available to as many Americans as possible–rich or poor, rural or urban–when Congress passed the original Communications Act, creating the concept of universal service. Guided by this principle, the U.S. promoted the development and reach of the national telephone network by distributing costs across groups of services and users in order to connect all segments of the American public.
Universal service recognizes the economic reality that the costs of providing telephone service to all parts of the country vary widely, but that the nation as a whole benefits from a network that connects as many Americans as possible. While it may be difficult to define, universal service can be looked on as a system by which everyone benefits from the fact that everyone else has a telephone.
Thanks to universal service, independent companies in high-cost rural areas have been assured of appropriate recognition of their business costs, and all Americans have been assured of quality telephone service at reasonable rates, no matter where they live.
In addition to the federal universal service programs, Chesnee Communications and other telecom providers in South Carolina collect fees for the South Carolina Universal Service Fund that is administered by the South Carolina Public Service Commission in Columbia. The South Carolina Universal Service Charge supports universal service programs within the state. All telecom providers in the state must contribute to the support of universal service in South Carolina to help keep basic local rates affordable for everyone in the state.
The South Carolina Public Service Commission has authorized telecom providers to recover their universal service contributions through a charge to all customers. The South Carolina Public Service Commission uses the South Carolina Universal Service Fund as a means to ensure that Chesnee Communications and other community based companies in the state have sufficient financial support to keep basic local rates affordable for all South Carolina citizens, rural and urban. As with the federal support program, the South Carolina Universal Service Fund is distributed to individual telecom providers based on the costs they incur in serving their particular areas of the state.
A: Traditionally, long-distance carriers paid access charges to Chesnee Communications and other local companies for "access" to the local network to enable customers to make or receive long-distance calls. These access-charge dollars reflected a legitimate cost of business, compensating us for the long-distance carriers' use of our networks.
Universal service support and access charge revenues are essential to community based telecom providers. These programs generate revenues that help local companies serving rural areas keep local rates affordable and comparable to rates in urban areas where the population is more densely clustered and costs are not as high. We continue to rely on this support today, given the costs of the equipment and facilities necessary to make new and advanced services available to our rural customers.
A. Competition, technology, and new federal and state policies threaten to undermine the objectives of universal service. Without continued resolve to connect all Americans, what's been labeled as "reform" could mean the significant reduction of access-charge revenues and universal service support for community based telecom providers.
If programs designed to protect subscribers in high-cost rural areas fall victim to pro-competitive policies intended to benefit large, urban markets, the only place for community based telecom providers to make up the lost dollars is through increased local rates. Universal service support and access charge revenues are essential to the services Chesnee Communications provides and the investments we make–these dollars help to ensure affordable telephone rates for our customers.
Debates continue in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals across the land about how universal service should be funded. How these issues are resolved is critical, especially for rural consumers. The answers will affect us all, both as telecom users and as members of rural communities whose economic prosperity depends on continued connection. Universal service remains essential if rural Americans are to remain equal partners in the information economy.
A: No, not all local companies qualify for support. While most telecom providers contribute to the support of universal service, the companies that serve large cities and urban markets are not likely to qualify for federal Universal Service Fund support. Thus, through their SLC and FUSC payments, customers of large urban-based companies are helping to keep local rates "comparable" and "affordable" for those served by rural providers. This mutual social benefit is the very objective that Congress designed universal service to achieve.
A. From the day Chesnee Communications first wired our area for service, we've maintained a simple philosophy: to provide a variety of quality services at affordable rates to the residents and businesses we serve. All the while, we operated with a strong conviction that we do not serve merely "customers"–we provide essential services to our neighbors and friends. And, thanks to the country's historic commitments to universal service and other programs that recognize that it costs significantly more to provide telecom services in rural areas than it does in large urban markets, Chesnee Communications has been an active partner in the national telephone network.
Now, in the Internet age, independent local companies face unprecedented challenges. Competition, advancing technology, and new policies have radically altered the way telecom service works. Ironically, these changes mean that community based providers confront obstacles as formidable as those Chesnee Communications had to overcome when we first brought service to Spartanburg County. But, we're ready for the challenge, and remain true to our mission of offering quality service to our customers and playing a vital economic role in our community. Rural America may be tough to serve, but it's worth it. We hope you agree.
DISPUTING CHARGES ON YOUR BILL
A: Your bill must include the name and toll-free telephone number of any company that has charged you for its services, along with the charges for those services. If you don't recognize the company or have questions about the services for which you've been billed, call the company to ask for more information.
Some service providers do not bill customers directly, so they contract with local companies to bill for them. These providers send us your usage data electronically, and we use that information to bill on their behalf. Increasingly, telemarketers and crooks are using customers' phone numbers to post unauthorized and fraudulent charges in the billing data sent to us. These charges can be for many things, but the result is that the charges are included in the data. We have no way to monitor its accuracy. The billing rules are intended to make sure that the format of your bill helps you identify any unauthorized or fraudulent charges.
Q: A COMPANY HAS CHARGES LISTED ON MY BILL FOR TELECOM SERVICES THAT I DO NOT UNDERSTAND, AND THE DESCRIPTION IS UNCLEAR.
HOW CAN I GET THEM EXPLAINED?
A: You may find charges on your bill that are not from your local company. The name and toll-free number of the company charging you for telecom services are listed in the section where those charges appear. You should call that company for an explanation. You can also dispute the charges and request that the company remove them from your bill. As your local telecom provider, Chesnee Communications reminds you that as part of our service commitment, our business office is always available if you have questions about your bill. If you have any difficulty in contacting the service providers listed on your bill, or if you're not satisfied with the response you get, we'll help you resolve the problem.
Q: IF I WANT TO DISPUTE A CHARGE THAT APPEARS ON MY BILL–AND DON'T PAY THE CHARGE–WILL MY LOCAL VOICE SERVICE BE DISRUPTED?
A: We identify all charges on your bill that if not paid, could result in the disconnection of your local voice service; such services are listed as "deniable" charges. The South Carolina Public Service Commission designates the charges we must classify as "deniable," and those charges are identified on your bill. Non-payment of other, "non-deniable" charges can result in the termination of the specific service, but will not lead to disconnection of local service. If you don't recognize the charges, you should call the toll-free number listed on your bill within 60 days to ensure no interruption of the service in question.
A: Telephone numbers are also "account" numbers. Some service providers that do not bill customers themselves contract with local companies to bill for them. Telemarketers, con artists, and criminals sometime use phone numbers for cramming, the unauthorized, deceptive, and fraudulent posting of charges in the billing information sent to local companies. In essence, cramming refers to any charges you find on your bill for services you did not authorize, order, or receive. Because we do not have the authority to screen the data, we rely strictly on the information sent to us.
The charges commonly found in cramming abuse can be for many things; e.g., voice mail, personal 800 numbers, 900 services, sweepstakes, and other offers. In addition, you may find charges listed for legitimate services, but ones you did not order or authorize, as well as for "fees," "memberships," "usage," or other services described only in general terms–or not at all. Cramming charges are often difficult to identify and can be detected only if you carefully review your bill each month.
A: You have the right to choose any certified long-distance carrier that offers you service and to change your preferred interexchange carrier (PIC) whenever you wish. Slamming is the unauthorized and illegal switching of a customer's preferred long-distance company. If you've been slammed, you have the right to be switched back to your chosen carrier at no cost. Customers who believe they've been slammed; i.e., that there has been an unauthorized change in their PIC selection, should inform Chesnee Communications immediately. Once we receive notification of an unauthorized PIC change, we will do the following:
- Notify you that there is a 30-day absolution period and that you should not pay those charges on your bill.
- Refer you to the South Carolina Public Service Commission, which is responsible for slamming charges.
- Immediately notify your authorized carrier; i.e., your preferred carrier prior to the alleged slamming, and identify the unauthorized carrier.
- Immediately notify the unauthorized carrier; i.e., the current PIC as a result of the switch, and identify the authorized carrier.
A: First, always check your bill carefully. If you find charges from a long-distance company that you don't recognize or didn't choose as your preferred carrier, chances are you've been slammed. Contact us, and we'll help you resolve the problem.
Remember, it is against the law for any carrier to submit a change of your selection of a service provider that does not comply with prescribed procedures. In more basic terms, the FCC has issued specific rules to discourage slamming. You should note, however, that these same rules prohibit local telephone companies from verifying the change orders submitted by long-distance carriers. As a service to customers, we provide an extra level of slamming protection for you–in the form of a "preferred interexchange carrier freeze."
A: To protect against slamming, Chesnee Communications offers a preferred interexchange carrier (PIC) freeze, which enables you to prevent any change being made to your selection of a "preferred" long-distance provider without your expressed consent to lift the freeze. We make PIC freezes available to customers, regardless of the company selected as the preferred long-distance carrier, and comply with various requirements on the materials we send out about PIC freezes. In addition to specific information about any charges, we also include a clear explanation and description of the specific procedures necessary for you to lift the freeze.
You must request separate PIC freezes for: (1) regional (intra-LATA/intrastate) long-distance service, and (2) state-to-state (interstate/inter-LATA) and international long-distance service. We must obtain separate authorizations for each service for which you request a freeze.
A: The FCC requires that customers be able to impose (or lift) a PIC freeze by contacting their local telephone company. Local companies may not accept freeze orders from a carrier on your behalf. You can make a PIC change and a PIC freeze at the same time, but in such cases, we must verify both your carrier change and freeze requests.
LONG DISTANCE SERVICE
Q: WHY CAN'T I GET SERVICE FROM THE LONG-DISTANCE COMPANY I WANT, AND WHY CAN'T I GET THEIR ADVERTISED RATE PLANS? ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO THE BIG COMPANIES?
A: Many national long-distance companies do not offer service or their advertised rate plans in rural areas. Many customers find only frustration when they try to select a long-distance company or pick a calling plan they've seen advertised on TV. When customers ask for an explanation, the long-distance companies usually point to the "local" company, as the reason. As your local telecom provider, we'd like to make it clear that we have no say in a long-distance company's decision to offer service in our area. For a long-distance carrier to provide service here, it must request that we program our switching facilities to recognize its "identification" code. If the long-distance company does not make the request, we cannot process the call. Choosing a calling plan is an even more direct issue. Long distance rates and plans are unique only in their pricing; there are no technical or service-related factors that require a local company to play any role at all in the decision to make a calling plan available.
Chesnee Communications provides customers a long-distance option that's "closer to home." We offer nationwide voice service with competitive rates and calling plans, but also with the advantage of the one-to-one service quality you expect from a company based here in the community, made up of your friends and neighbors, not remote service centers and 800 numbers. We're pleased to offer you long-distance choice and the continued convenience of one bill for all your telecom needs.
Q: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PER-MINUTE LONG-DISTANCE RATES AND THE NEW NATIONWIDE CALLING PACKAGES I SEE?
A: As a result of advances in technology and the growing popularity of wireless calling plans, the use of "per-minute" rates to charge for long-distance calling is on the wane. Wireless plans have made "nationwide calling minutes" the popular standard for customers, and Internet-based transmission technologies are making calling rates based on time and type of call (interstate or intrastate) meaningless; i.e., voice communication is becoming more a "commodity" service in which calls will be considered the same, regardless of when the call is made and where it originates and terminates.
Chesnee Communications and other providers are moving away from the traditional per-minute rate structure that's been used to charge for long-distance calls. Similar to the nationwide/regional package of minutes included in wireless calling plans, we now offer calling plans with a flat-rate charge for varying minutes of "nationwide" calling.
A: "Bundled" service packages have becoming wildly popular as an affordable and convenient way for customers to meet all their telecom needs, at one price and on one bill. Chesnee Communications offers two broad categories of bundles: double play–voice (local and nationwide calling) and high-speed Internet access, and voice and digital cable TV; and, triple play–voice, high-speed Internet access, and cable TV. As a result of our network enhancements and telecom service changes, Chesnee Communications give our rural customers the same options and choices enjoyed by consumers in urban-based markets served by larger companies. You can choose the particular bundle of services that best meets your needs, and you save in the process, since our bundles are priced at discounted rates from the cost of the individual services.
A: VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), in a general sense, refers to broadband Internet technology (protocol) used to provide voice services. Rather than using the traditional "circuit-switched" (two-way) telephone network to transmit and deliver voice signals, VoIP "digitizes" the signals as information "packets" that are sent over the Internet, similar to data or e-mail. The packets are reassembled at the other end of the connection to produce the voice signal. VoIP is one of the individual components of a larger, more wide-ranging concept of "IP-enabled services" that have developed with the growth of the Internet and its technology.
VoIP service has become widely available. From a technical starting point, users must have a broadband connection (DSL or cable modem) to make use of VoIP and other IP-enabled services.
There remain serious questions about VoIP's lack of E-911 capabilities and the inability of law enforcement officials to track and "tap" packet-based voice signals. Without getting into all the details, Congress, the FCC, and state lawmakers continue to investigate how to promote the rollout of VoIP and other IP-enabled services at the same time as they safeguard the universal service, emergency, law enforcement, consumer privacy, and other social objectives attained and promoted through the national switched telephone network for almost a century.
Q: IS ALL WIRELESS SERVICE THE SAME, AND HOW IS WIRELESS COVERAGE SET UP? IF I'M IN MY SERVICE AREA, WHY ARE THERE DROPPED CALLS
AND DEAD SPOTS?
A: Today, most wireless service is digital, though some providers, especially in rural areas, still rely on analog service. Analog systems, the prevalent technology when wireless service was initially deployed, transmit voice signals through the air using radio waves. Digital technology also uses radio waves, but converts the voice signals to computer "ones and zeros" that are transmitted through electronic pulses to be reassembled after delivery. Because the voice packets are digitized, digital wireless eliminates much of the static noise; offers clearer, more secure calls; and includes more features than analog.
The area where you can make and receive wireless calls is determined by where your carrier has a license and where it has built out its network. Wireless networks work like grids that divide service areas into smaller cells. When you travel beyond your carrier's area, you still may be able to use your wireless service–in this case, provided by the wireless carrier in the area where you are traveling. This is called roaming, and it enables customers to connect using another carrier's network. If your wireless carrier has a "roaming agreement" with another carrier and if your wireless handset allows roaming, you will be able to connect with the other network to use your wireless service.
Even within your own coverage area–regardless of whether you have analog or digital service–limitations in your carrier's network facilities and capacity can interfere with wireless call quality and completion. If the carrier's network fails to hand off calls in progress as a customer travels from one coverage area to another, a "dropped call" results. A large number of callers using the network at the same time can strain capacity, so others will get a busy signal when they try to connect. Terrain also affects coverage, causing "dead" spots–areas where service is spotty or unavailable because the signal between the handset and the tower is blocked or impeded. In addition, wireless signals often fade inside buildings or underground.
A: As a community based telecom provider with deep ties here in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, Chesnee wants our customers to know exactly what it means to "go wireless"–to terminate your traditional wireline phone and switch to wireless as your sole connection. If you decide to port your telephone number to a wireless carrier, we want to give you an idea of some of the service differences between traditional wireline phones and what you can expect from a wireless carrier:
If you port your wireline (traditional) phone number to a wireless carrier, you will be disconnecting your wireline phone and terminating your traditional local service. You may no longer enjoy unlimited local calling; in many case, you will need to be aware of the number of minutes that are included in your wireless plan, and keep in mind that in many cases (especially if you calling someone using a different wireless carrier), both the calls you make and those you receive will count against your total minutes; and, you will be responsible to pay for any overages. When you switch your service to a wireless carrier, you may be required to purchase a new phone and sign an "extended" service agreement; most wireless plans require up to a 24-month service contract, and significant penalties may apply if you decide to terminate the agreement before its expiration. You will have to arrange with your wireless provider for a directory listing and directory assistance services. In an emergency, E-911 service can pinpoint your traditional home phone, but in most cases, not your cell phone. You will no longer have access to all the other telecom services that Chesnee offers, or such services as alarm monitoring and video pay-per-view that are connected or confirmed through your wireline phone. You will be unable to reach someone at your home who does not have their cell phone on or with them. You will have to keep your wireless phone charged at all times; if the power goes out and your phone is not charged, or the battery wears down, you will have to wait until power is restored before you can charge your phone. Should you decide to re-connect your wireline phone service in the future, you will be responsible for applicable set-up fees and charges to connect your home phone. In general, a phone number can only be assigned to a single wireless phone. With a traditional wireline phone, you can have many phones (or extensions) in your house that hook up to the same number. Typically, wireless phones can't share numbers. If your home is in an area that does not enjoy clear wireless reception, your calls might be patchy, unclear, or have a tendency to drop. Be aware of your surroundings and the type of reception that your wireless phone gets at home, as this is the type of service quality you'll have for all your calls.
With all the services and features–not to mention, reliability–you stand to lose, we raise the question, why would you want to disconnect your wireline phone?