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Report: Telecom Bills Can be a Puzzle to Decipher

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Report: Telecom Bills Can be a Puzzle to Decipher

October 28, 2015

  By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

There’s little that is more frustrating to today’s customer than invoicing that doesn’t make sense. The master agent often gets involved in the deployment of the telecom solution, but beyond that step, are our hands tied? So many of us assume that the price quoted is the price we will be charged that it causes a negative reaction when the opposite is true. It happens so often in the world of mobile connections that we tend to deal with more frustration than answers.

In fact, telecommunications billing is so complex that there’s an entire industry devoted to helping companies make sense of their bills, identify errors and streamline contracts so as to avoid paying more than they need to. The typical consumer is not so lucky, but thanks to the attention of the federal government, there may soon be something to smile about.

According to this NBC report, special access charges levied by Verizon (News - Alert), AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier on institutions, businesses and government agencies are under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission. Consumer advocates suggest that while consequences are likely for the big names, the ramifications could also extend to individual consumers – which could mean good news.

The bad news for the network operators above is that their competitors have a complaint they believe to be valid. The special access lines for which the charges are assessed use older technology known as time-division multiplexing (TDM) to transmit data over dedicated circuits. Many companies and organizations rely on these lines for their data and communications needs and plans with TDM included are still subject to tariff requirements and price regulation. This is where competitors have an issue.

Companies like Level 3 Communications (News - Alert), Sprint and others believe that tariff pricing plans are generally complex bundling options that actually create problems for the competitive market, enabling Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink (News - Alert) and Frontier to control the TDM space altogether, monopolizing $25 billion in annual revenue. The challenging operators also contend that while the TDM operators describe their offerings as discounted, they are in reality significantly higher than competitor offerings.

So why would this matter to the consumer? Sure, there’s the possibility of savings indirectly by companies passing along lower prices, but we won’t hold our breath for that one. Instead, the investigation will shine a light on bundled plans altogether and how the complexity of the plans can often tie a customer into an agreement they don’t understand or that appears to cost less than it actually does over time.

Is there really any reason for billing and plans to be complex other than to confuse the issue enough that operators make more money? We hope that isn’t the case; the fine print is too tiny to read to know for sure.

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