Telephone services can include land-lines, mobile (cell) phones, and pre-paid telephone cards that allow you to make calls from a pay phone or someone else’s phone line. Generally, these telephone services are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The CPUC has a dedicated website just about telecommunications issues. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also offers a useful telephone guides for consumers.
The California LifeLine Program provides discounted home phone and cell phone services to qualified households: https://www.californialifeline.com/en. If your telephone has been shut off—or you are afraid it may be shut off—because you have fallen behind on your bills, and you cannot resolve the problem directly with the utility service, the CPUC may be able to help you restart your services and negotiate a payment plan. You do not need to wait until your services are shut off. Call 1-800-649-7570 for assistance if your phone is in jeopardy of being disconnected. The CPUC website has more information on restarting your phone service or negotiating with the phone company.
Read your phone bills, landline and cell, every month. Pay particular attention to any unexpected or unexplained increases in cost. If you see a third-party charge that you did not authorize or a change in your chosen long-distance carrier, contact your phone company immediately.
Having an unauthorized charge placed on your phone bill is sometimes called “cramming.” If you don’t recognize a charge or see charges added to your telephone bill without a clear explanation of the services provided—such as a “monthly fee” or “minimum monthly usage fee,” ask your phone carrier about it. If you’ve been assessed an unauthorized fee, ask your phone company to reverse the current charge and all previous unauthorized charges from the provider. You may want to discuss blocking third-party charges altogether from your phone line but understand that there may be cases where you may want a third-party service. If you do decide to buy a service or application (app) that will be billed to your phone, make sure you understand exactly what you are buying and what you are agreeing to pay before you purchase or click “ok.” Test the service as soon as you can and make sure that the amount on your next bill is what you understood you were going to pay.
Before a telephone company can switch a customer, it must first obtain your permission. Having your long-distance carrier changed without your permission is sometimes called “slamming.” If you’ve been slammed, ask your phone company to switch you back to your preferred carrier and reverse any unauthorized charges related to the change in service.
Whatever your problem, keep a list of everyone you’ve spoken to about the issue. Get their name and identification number and note the date of your call and what the employee agreed to do.
If you can’t resolve the issue with your carrier contact the CPUC.
Cell phones are nearly everywhere and used by most everyone. As with any consumer service, shop carefully, understand what you’re buying, and make sure what you are billed is what you agreed to pay. Here are some tips and traps:
With a prepaid phone card, you dial a toll-free telephone number and enter a Personal Identification Number (PIN) usually printed on the back of the card. Charges will be deducted based on the amount shown on the card’s package. There may be a charge imposed at the start of the call and usually additional charges are deducted from the card for each minute or part of a minute of usage.
These cards can be very useful, but you should shop carefully and make sure you get the right card for your needs. Here are some tips:
If you’re having trouble with your telephone provider, the CPUC recommends that you try to resolve the problem with your provider first; if that fails, you can file a complaint online with the CPUC, call 1-800-649-7570, or send a letter to:
California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102–3298
If you disagree with the outcome of your informal complaint, you may be able to appeal or file a formal complaint. More information is available at http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/complaints/.
You may want to also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), online or by phone at: 1-888-CALL-FCC.
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, you may also want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). You can also file a complaint about cramming with the California Attorney General.