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Terms associated with everyday telecommunications.

Access charge: A fee charged subscribers or other telephone companies by a local exchange carrier for the use of its local exchange networks.

Analog signal: A signaling method that uses continuous changes in the amplitude or frequency of a radio transmission to convey information.

Bandwith: The capacity of a telecom line to carry signals. The necessary bandwidth is the amount of spectrum required to transmit the signal without distortion or loss of information. FCC rules require suppression of the signal outside the band to prevent interference.

Billing Increments is the way that a carrier round the call time for billing.

Broadband: Broadband is a descriptive term for evolving digital technologies that provide consumers a signal switched facility offering integrated access to voice, high-speed data service, video-demand services, and interactive delivery services.

Calling party pays: A billing method in which a wireless phone caller pays only for making calls and not for receiving them. The standard American billing system requires wireless phone customers to pay for all calls made and received on a wireless phone.

Cellular technology: This term, often used for all wireless phones regardless of the technology they use, derives from cellular base stations that receive and transmit calls. Both cellular and PCS phones use cellular technology.

Common carrier: In the telecommunications arena, the term used to describe a telephone company.

Cramming: A practice in which customers are billed for enhanced features such as voice mail, caller ID and call waiting that they have not ordered.

Dial around: Long distance services that require consumers to dial a long-distance provider's access code (or "10-10" number) before dialing a long-distance number to bypass or "dial around" the consumer's chosen long-distance carrier in order to get a better rate.

FCC (Federal Communications Commission): The FCC is an independent United States government agency, directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions. Regulates interstate communications such as licenses, rates, tariffs, standards and limitations.

Federal Tax (Federal Excise Tax): Appears on both your local and long distance phone bills. Charged as a percentage of your total bill regardless of your telephone carrier. It is 3% of long distance calls and 2.7% of local calls.

Interexchange Carrier: Another name for long distance carrier. Provides long distance between LEC (Local Exchange Carrier) and LATA. Ex. AT&T, MCIWorldCom, Sprint.

Interstate rate: rate of state to state calls.

Intrastate rate: rate of calls made within the state.

LATA (Local Access Transport Area): Division of telephone service into geographic regions. Used by regional phone service provider to determine which areas are considered "long distance" or "local." This is not represented by area codes or exchange prefixes. Calls outside your LATA ( interlata) are long distance. Calls inside your LATA (intralata) may or may not be toll free, depending on the local phone company. Switching long distance providers switches the calls made outside your LATA. To encourage competition and give consumers more choices, the FCC has ruled that intralata calls can be switched to the provider of your choice. You will be charged the in-state rate for intralata local calls.

LANDLINE: Traditional wired phone service.

LEC (Local Exchange Carrier): Local or regional company that owns and operates lines to consumer locations.

Local Number Portability Charge (LNP): The FCC allows local telephone companies to recover certain costs for providing "telephone number portability" to its customers. This charge provides residential and business telephone customers with the ability to retain, at the same location, their existing local telephone numbers when switching from one local telephone service provider to another. This is a fixed, monthly charge. Local telephone companies may continue to assess this charge on their customers' telephone bills for five years from the date the local telephone company first began itemizing the charge on the bill. This is not a tax.

Local Service: Calls within your local calling area.


Long Distance Toll Service: Calls outside your local calling area. "1" + area code + 7-digit number.

Minimum Billing Increment: Minimum amount of time you will be billed for a call.

Minimum Usage Requirements: Some plans specify a dollar minimum for your total bill. If you don't reach this minimum, you will be charged a set minimum usage fee. Some programs will charge you the difference as a fee. Monthly Fee (Monthly Service Fee, Monthly Access Fee)- Some companies charge a fixed monthly fee paid to your carrier regardless of your usage. This fee is paid in addition to the cost of your calls.

Municipal Charge: Charged by your local municipality to offset the costs of community services such as 911.

NETWORK: Any connection of two or more computers that enables them to communicate. Networks may include transmission devices, servers, cables, routers and satellites. The phone network is the total infrastructure for transmitting phone messages.

NUMBER PORTABILITY: A term used to describe the capability of individuals, businesses and organizations to retain their existing telephone number(s) -- and the same quality of service -- when switching to a new local service provider.

Off Peak Rate is the rate for calling period between 7 pm and 7 am.

Peak Rate is the rate for calling hours between 7 am and 7 pm.

PAGING SYSTEM: A one-way mobile radio service where a user carries a small, lightweight miniature radio receiver capable of responding to coded signals. These devices, called "pagers," emit an audible signal, vibrate or do both when activated by an incoming message.

PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE (PCS): Any of several types of wireless, voice and/or data communications systems, typically incorporating digital technology. PCS licenses are most often used to provide services similar to advanced cellular mobile or paging services. However, PCS can also be used to provide other wireless communications services, including services that allow people to place and receive communications while away from their home or office, as well as wireless communications to homes, office buildings and other fixed locations.

PIC Switching Fee: Charged by the local provider when you change long distance carriers. The fee is normally $5-10 and charged on your local phone bill. After your service is switched, some carriers will reimburse the switching fee. To credit the fee, the carrier will probably request a copy of the phone bill with the switching fee.

PIC (Primary Interexchange Carrier): The primary long distance carrier through which all interstate long distance calls are made (1+ dialing).

PIC Freeze: Consumer arranges with local carrier to prevent changing the user's PIC without permission ("slamming").

PRESCRIBED INTEREXCHANGE CHARGE (PICC): The charge the local exchange company assesses the long distance company when a consumer picks it as his or her long distance carrier.

ROAMING: The use of a wireless phone outside of the "home" service area defined by a service provider. Higher per-minute rates are usually charged for calls made or received while roaming. Long distance rates and a daily access fee may also apply.

RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company): One of the original seven local telephone companies (Baby Bells) created as part of the breakup of AT&T. Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, Bell South, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis Group, Southwestern Bell and US West.

Regional Toll Service (Local long distance, Local toll): This calling area includes calls to places outside your local calling area but not as far away as those covered by long distance toll service. Usually itemized on your bill and billed at a per minute rate.

SERVICE PLAN: The rate plan you select when choosing a wireless phone service. A service plan typically consists of a monthly base rate for access to the system and a fixed amount of minutes per month.

SERVICE PROVIDER: A telecommunications provider that owns circuit switching equipment.

SLAMMING: The term used to describe what occurs when a customer's long distance service is switched from one long distance company to another without the customer's permission. Such unauthorized switching violates FCC rules.

SUBSCRIBER LINE CHARGE (SLC): A monthly fee paid by telephone subscribers that is used to compensate the local telephone company for part of the cost of installation and maintenance of the telephone wire, poles and other facilities that link your home to the telephone network. These wires, poles and other facilities are referred to as the "local loop." The SLC is one component of access charges.

State & Local Municipal Tax: This charge is imposed by state, local and municipal governments on goods and services. It may also appear as a "gross receipts" tax in some states.

TARIFF: The documents filed by a carrier describing their services and the payments to be charged for such services.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS RELAY SERVICE (TRS): A free service that enables persons with TTYs, individuals who use sign language and people who have speech disabilities to use telephone services by having a third party transmit and translate the call.

TELEPHONY: The word used to describe the science of transmitting voice over a telecommunications network.

TTY: A type of machine that allows people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the phone using a keyboard and a viewing screen. It is sometimes called a TDD.

UNBUNDLING: The term used to describe the access provided by local exchange carriers so that other service providers can buy or lease portions of its network elements, such as interconnection loops, to serve subscribers.

UNIVERSAL SERVICE: The financial mechanism which helps compensate telephone companies or other communications entities for providing access to telecommunications services at reasonable and affordable rates throughout the country, including rural, insular and high costs areas, and to public institutions. Companies, not consumers, are required by law to contribute to this fund. The law does not prohibit companies from passing this charge on to customers.

Universal Service Fund (USF) - Since telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, to government services, and to surrounding communities, it has been national policy to promote universal telephone service since the 1930s. USF makes phone service affordable and available to all Americans, including: consumers with low incomes; consumers who live in areas where the costs of providing telephone service is high; schools and libraries; and rural health care providers. 

Rate of return regulation - Rate of return regulation is analogous to a cost-plus contract. Local phone companies subject to rate of return regulation are allowed to set rates up to an amount that recovers costs on a dollar-for dollar basis, plus a reasonable rate of return on the amounts invested. A rate of return is the specified percentage return a carrier is permitted to recover on its invested capital.

Price cap regulation - Price cap regulation focuses directly on regulating the end price that a local phone company charges its customers. A price cap is the maximum price a local phone company can charge for its services.

Deaveraging - Deaveraging refers to charging different rates in different areas to reflect the relative costs of providing service in each area.

X-Factor - Price cap regulation allows prices to increase by a measure of inflation minus a specified percentage, known as the "X-Factor." In the past, it has represented the amount by which local telephone companies can be expected to outperform economy-wide productivity gains.

How do I stop telemarketing calls to my home?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 was created in response to consumer concerns about the growing number of unsolicited telephone marketing calls to their homes and the increasing use of automated and prerecorded messages. Read our fact sheet on
Unwanted Telephone Marketing Calls.

What is slamming and what can I do about it?
Slamming is the term used to describe the changing of your local or long distance carrier to another company without your knowledge or permission. If you believe you have been slammed, you may file a complaint with the FCC or your
state Public Utilities Commission, depending on the state in which you live.

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