Telecom FAQ

These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)  apply to Investor Owned Utilities regulated by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) . If you do not live in California, contact your states Public Utilities Commission for information.  Please go to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to find your state’s Public Utilities Commission.  

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is a state agency created by Constitutional amendment to regulate privately owned telecommunications, electric, natural gas, water, railroad, rail transit, passenger transportation, and in-state moving companies. The CPUC is responsible for assuring California utility customers have safe, reliable utility service at reasonable rates, protecting utility customers from fraud, and promoting the health of California’s economy.

The Commission is comprised of a five-member board with a President.  Its members are appointed by the Governor and serve six-year staggered terms. Generally, the board meets twice a month. The CPUC has a staff of approximately 940 employees.  CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco with field offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

The Commission is comprised of a five-member board with a President.  Its members are appointed by the Governor and serve six-year staggered terms.   Commissioners make all policy decisions, usually meeting twice a month to vote on issues noted on a public agenda. Go to the CPUC website for more information.

Have a Telecom Question?

Do you have questions about your consumer rights when it comes to phone services?   Cellphone or wire line telephone services? We may be able to answer some of those questions with these FAQs.

How do I file a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)?

A: Before filing a complaint, TURN recommends contacting your phone provider to discuss the issue. If you are a TURN member and your phone provider’s customer service representative does not resolve the complaint, contact TURN’s Utility Complaint Hotline 1-800-355-8876 and TURN may attempt to resolve the issue through your phone provider’s Executive Office. If you tried resolving the issue through the phone company and the issue was not resolved, file a complaint with the CPUC, FCC, or Federal Trade Commission. Download TURN’s Need To File A CPUC Complaint fact sheet for additional help.

For telephone service related complaints, TURN recommends filing an informal complaint with the CPUC through our website first. If the FCC is the more appropriate government agency to resolve your issue, the CPUC may ask that you redirect your complaint to the FCC at: https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/. For complaints about unauthorized charges or cramming, the Rules require that once the CPUC contacts a carrier about your complaint, they must provide proof of authorization or refund the charges within 30 days.

Got questions about telecommunications services?

Telephone voice service is provided through wireline (landline), wireless (mobile phone), cable, or VoIP (internet). The consumer protections for the different telephone services vary depending on the type of telephone service. These consumer protections include – but are not limited to – minimum service requirements, access to 9-1-1 emergency services, proper billing practices, LifeLine discount phone service and what a consumer can do to avoid a telephone service shut off.

There are two main government agencies that regulate and oversee the telephone industry and related consumer protections. Telecommunication consumer protections are regulated at the state level by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), and the federal level by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The role of the CPUC and FCC sometimes overlap, and sometimes only one has jurisdiction. For example, the CPUC has little or no jurisdiction over municipal utilities and video cable services. Also, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates some telephone billing and telemarketing practices. Depending on the issues, consumers who have a dispute with a telephone service provider can file a complaint with the CPUC, FCC, or FTC.

I can’t pay my wireline phone bill, what can I do?

A: If you pay the portion of your bill for basic voice wireline services, the phone provider cannot shut off your basic service. Prioritize paying the portion for basic services (including taxes, fees, and surcharges) and make arrangements with your phone provider to pay for other services (i.e. call waiting, long distance, etc.). A company must provide you with 5 days’ notice prior to disconnecting your service.

If your basic wireline service is shut-off for non-payment or insufficient payment, the phone provider must temporarily continue your access to 9-1-1 emergency services for 120 days and must provide you a contact number for the phone provider. Discounted phone service is available to eligible Californians, check your eligibility for LifeLine discounted phone services.

Please note that phone providers are not required to consider alternative payment arrangements; however, the phone provider may use its discretion to offer you a payment plan. TURN recommends contacting your phone provider to discuss the problem before you are shut off. If you have a dispute regarding your bill, your service cannot be shut-off during the dispute process. File a complaint here.

For non-basic phone service – including wireless, cable, and VoIP providers – contact your provider for its shut off policy, these providers may be able to disconnect your service for failure to pay any part of your bill.

Do I have to pay a deposit for my wireline phone service?

Each phone company has different policies regarding deposits. Some companies may require a deposit upon service activation. Some companies may require a deposit after telephone service is temporarily disconnected for non-payment. If you pay a deposit, the company must pay you a small interest on the deposit. If you pay your bills on time for a year, the company may return your deposit.

For example, AT&T and Frontier may require a deposit equal to twice your average monthly bill if your service is temporarily disconnected due to non-payment of your phone bill. This is in addition to the balance you must pay, plus a disconnection and reactivation charge.

If you are a LifeLine customer, the phone provider cannot require a deposit for LifeLine service.

Do I have a choice of local wireline phone providers?

A: Yes, however TURN believes the choice is extremely limited. Contact different phone providers to see if service is available in your area. If you wish to obtain a list of companies approved by the CPUC to provide local phone service in California, a list is available on the CPUC’s website or call the CPUC’s Consumer Affairs Branch at 1-800-649-7575, Monday-Friday between 8:30am – 4:30pm.

Who Sets Phone Service Rates for Wireline Service?

A: The CPUC does not currently regulate phone service rates. However, certain basic service providers like AT&T and Frontier must post their rates on an accessible web site and must notify you at 30 days in advance of a rate increase. These notices are often on your phone bill. For AT&T’s rates and charges please see AT&T’s Tariff, section 5.2.2. Before signing-up for service, please research potential phone service providers and plans to find a provider and plan that best fits your needs.

Who is responsible for telephone wiring repairs?

A: The property owner where the telephone service is provided is responsible for repairing and maintaining the properties inside wiring and phone jacks. The inside wiring is connected to the network that serves your neighborhood and city through a Network Interface Device (NID). The phone company is responsible for repairing and maintaining the network up to and including the NID.

What if I have a problem with my inside wiring?

If you experience a problem with your inside wiring and you are the property owner, you may do the repairs yourself, hire a repairperson, or contact your phone provider to have their technician make the repair for a fee. Some phone companies offer repair plans for a flat fee, but those can be expensive and you might be able to find a cheaper option to make the repairs. Before signing up for these plans, you should do the research to see if one of these plans works for you.

Should I subscribe to an inside wire maintenance plan?

Some phone companies offer repair plans for a flat fee, but those can be expensive and you might be able to find a cheaper option to make the repairs. Before signing up for these plans, you should do the research to see if one of these plans works for you.

What if I have poor phone service quality? What can I do?

If you are having an outage or experiencing poor service quality with your wireline basic phone service, and you have determined that the problem is not caused by the inside wire and equipment in your home, then you should call the phone company to request a repair. Phone companies should be able to fix an outage quickly, within 24 hours. Other problems such as static, cross talk or failure to connect, could take longer to repair. While there is no specific requirement for a phone company to fix your lines within a certain number of hours or days, phone companies must report outages and repairs to the CPUC. If you have service quality problems that are not being addressed in a timely manner, you should call the CPUC right away and report the problem.

Can I keep my phone number if I change phone providers?

A: Yes, you may keep your phone number (referred to as porting your number) so long as you are not moving to a different local exchange area, which covers an area of about ten miles. Contact your phone provider to ask about porting your number.

Where do I file a complaint if I have non-telephone service charges on my bill such as apps, games, songs and unwanted telemarketing calls?

For non-telephone service charges on your bill (such as apps, games, and songs) and unwanted telemarketing calls, file a complaint through the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov, or write to:

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580

Toll-free: 1-877-382-4357
TTY: 1-866-653-4261

I can’t pay my wireless (mobile), cable, or VoIP phone bill. What can I do?

A: For non-basic service – including wireless, cable, and VoIP services – the phone provider may be able to disconnect your service for failure to pay any part of your bill. If you cannot pay your bill, TURN recommends contacting your phone provider to obtain your phone provider’s policy on partial payments and to ask about arrangements for a payment plan. Phone service providers are not required to consider payment arrangements; however, they may use their discretion to work with you. Your service contract may also require that the wireless or cable company provide you with notice prior to disconnecting your service. While there are no state rules to govern this, please contact your provider to ask about their policies.

Discounted phone service may be available to eligible Californians if your wireless or VoIP phone company participates in the LifeLine program. You can check your eligibility for LifeLine discounted phone services here.

Do I have to pay a deposit for my wireless, cable, or VoIP phone service?

A: A phone provider may require a deposit at the time of service activation or if your service is temporarily disconnected due to non-payment of your phone bill. This deposit is in addition to the balance you must pay and any disconnection charge.

Ask for your phone provider for its policy on deposits. If you are a LifeLine customer, the phone provider cannot require a deposit for LifeLine service. Download TURN’s Struggling to Pay Your Monthly Phone Bill fact sheet for more information.

How can I choose a wireless phone provider?

A:  Wireless phone providers offer many plan options and may require you to sign multi-year contracts.  Before signing-up for wireless phone service, TURN recommends reflecting on your needs.  Get an idea of what you want to use your wireless service for and your budget so you will have a better understanding of which wireless plan best fits your needs.

You may want to review different plans online or visit different wireless providers’ stores, and compare the different services and phones before you commit to one service.  Plans can be pre-paid (pay before service is provided) or post-paid (pay after service is provided), may or may not require a contract, or may be provided through a reseller (Mobile Virtual Network Operator “MVNO”).  If you choose prepaid, you will have to monitor your usage and might have to buy extra minutes during a month to avoid losing your voice or text service.

Regardless of which provider and service you select, read the contract or service agreement before signing and keep these documents in a handy place.  Some contracts give the company the right to increase your rates with only limited notice and also might require remaining with the company for multiple years, and early termination fees may apply if you decide to cancel your service.

What are my privacy rights for wireless services?

A:  Wireless phone providers have privacy policies that explain your rights to protect personal information while using their services.  Please read your phone provider’s privacy policy and contact your phone provider if you have any questions.  There are strict federal and state rules that limit the way a phone company can use your personal information.  For example, some wireless customers have options to increase their privacy while using a wireless phone (e.g. limiting the collection/ tracking of your data), contact your phone provider to exercise your options.  For more information on Privacy, visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s webpage

Are there differences when using 9-1-1 emergency services from a wireless phone or when using VoIP?

A: Yes, there are differences.  If you need to call 9-1-1, TURN recommends using a wireline (landline) phone – if available – to place the emergency call as a wireline 9-1-1 call will more reliably give the emergency dispatcher your location.

For wireless phones, technology is still being developed to improve the determination of wireless phones’ exact location – street address and level in a building – for emergency services.  Today, when you dial 9-1-1 from a wireless phone, in most cases you will be connected to your local emergency services provider (i.e. the sheriff, fire or police), but if you are in a rural part of the state or traveling on an interstate highway, you will likely be connected to the California Highway Patrol. If you call 9-1-1 from a wireless phone, please give the emergency dispatcher your location as soon as possible as you may not be able to if you are disconnected or you may be prevented from doing so as the emergency progresses.

Some VoIP services may not be connected to an address, even if you are using the service in your home.  When you sign-up for VoIP services, please ensure that your VoIP service is registered to location where that phone is located.  If you are not sure if your VoIP service is properly registered and you need to call 9-1-1, please give the emergency dispatcher your location as soon as possible as you may not be able to if you are disconnected or you may be prevented from doing so as the emergency progresses.

Does the California Public Utilities Commission regulate Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)?

A: Yes, the CPUC regulates VoIP in a limited capacity. VoIP services are often offered by local cable companies as a replacement for your basic phone services.  Most frequently they are part of a bundle with your Internet and TV services, but some cable companies also offer them as a stand-alone voice service.  Some local phone companies, like AT&T, also offer VoIP services as part of a bundle with Internet. Still other companies offer VoIP services that require Internet services (such as Vonage and Skype), these services are generally unregulated.

Customers must be aware that VoIP voice services have less consumer protections than wireline traditional basic service.  As a VoIP customer, you are not guaranteed access to discounted low income services or services for the disabled, there are limited service quality protections, and you may have to supply your own batteries for equipment in your home to make sure your service continues working in a power outage.  You also have fewer protections to resolve billing disputes and service shutoffs.

However, the CPUC may require VoIP companies to provide you notices when they want to withdraw service from an area, the CPUC will track VoIP service outages and complaints, the CPUC may, but is not required, to help you resolve a complaint, and they can make sure the companies are providing information about how to retain service in power outages

What happens to VoIP phone services if there is a power outage?

A:  VoIP services are voice services that use the Internet, as opposed to using the copper lines that run through the neighborhood and into your house.  In a power outage, copper line phones will still work because the copper lines provide their own power.  In a power outage, the lines used to supply your Internet connection – and therefore VoIP – will not work without back-up power.

Some VoIP phone providers give customers back-up power batteries to connect to their phones as part of the customer’s service plan.  Other VoIP phone providers will only provide back-up power batteries to customer upon request or for a fee.  You can supply your own batteries, which may be cheaper.  You are responsible for making sure the batteries work and back-up power exists. Contact your phone provider to ask about their back-up power policies.

Who sets phone service rates?

A: The CPUC does not regulate rates for wireless or VoIP phone service. Before signing-up for service, please research potential phone service providers and plans to find a provider and plan that best fits your needs.

Are there low-income discount programs that can help me get an affordable phone plan?

A: California LifeLine provides discounted and in some cases free basic telephone – wireline and wireless – services to eligible California households.  You can qualify for California LifeLine if you are enrolled in an approved public assistance program or if you meet the income eligibility requirements.

Please note that the LifeLine Program is currently under review and changes may take effect in 2017. Anticipated changes to the program include narrower eligibility criteria and the enforcement of a portability freeze that would limit your ability to switch companies. Download TURN’s Struggling to Pay Your Monthly Phone Bill fact sheet for more information.

What is portability Freeze?

California is currently in the process of implementing a 30-day eligibility freeze, which means a customer cannot submit a second application for LifeLine services within 30-days of signing-up for LifeLine services with a provider even if you cancel the first application. Before signing-up for LifeLine services, please be sure to research phone service providers and different service plans to find a provider and plan that best fits your needs.

What is a benefit freeze?

California is also currently implementing a benefit freeze that will limit a LifeLine customer’s ability to switch voice service providers for 60 days after the customer is enrolled unless certain conditions are met (i.e. customer is moving). For the federal broadband (internet) LifeLine service, LifeLine customers may not be able to switch broadband providers for 12 months after enrollment.

What do I get if I’m a LifeLine customer?

A: The benefits offered to participants of the LifeLine program have changed over time, and the benefits also vary depending on which type of phone service you have. For wireline basic service, you receive the same service as a full-rate customer, but you pay no more than 50% of your companies’ basic service rate and in many cases much less. For a wireless service, you might get your prepaid voice, texting and some limited data capability for free or for $10-15 per month. Some wireless carriers may also provide you with a free phone. You will also receive a discount on any up-front fees to connect service or change providers for either wireless or wireline services.
Download TURN’s Struggling to Pay Your Monthly Phone Bill fact sheet for more information.

How can I sign up for the California Lifeline Program?

A: There are two steps to enroll in LifeLine: contact your phone provider, and enroll with the LifeLine Administrator. You will need to verify your eligibly every year.

When you contact your phone provider, inform your phone provider that you qualify for the California LifeLine Program based on eligible program participation or income [LINK TO LIFELINE FACT SHEET]. Your phone provider will notify the LifeLine Administer to contact you about enrolling in the LifeLine Program. Not all phone providers participate in the LifeLine Program. If your phone provider does not participate, you may need to switch your phone service to a LifeLine-participating phone provider to enroll in LifeLine. Download TURN’s Struggling to Pay Your Monthly Phone Bill fact sheet for more information.

How do I know if I qualify for the California Lifeline program?

Usually, within a week of notifying your phone provider that you are eligible for LifeLine, you will receive a pink envelope from the LifeLine Program Administrator. This pink envelope will include a LifeLine application, enrollment code, and personal identification number. You must complete the application, sign it, attach any required documents, and return it to the LifeLine Program Administrator by the due date. You can also go on line to complete your enrollment once you have your PIN code.

Do I need to renew my application?

California LifeLine customers must renew their application every year on the anniversary date of their enrollment in the LifeLine Program. LifeLine customers will be sent reminders to renew their application and to verify eligibility via mail, text messages, and/or phone calls.

For general questions, help finding participating phone provider in your area, and questions about your enrollment application, call the LifeLine Call Center:

Toll-free: 1-866-272-0349
TTY: 1-866-272-0358

How can I get a status update on my LifeLine application, renewal, or due dates?

A: Questions about the LifeLine Program may be answered online or over the phone. You may check your application and renew status, and web chat with a LifeLine representative during LifeLine business hours. If you prefer to talk to a LifeLine representative to the phone, call the California LifeLine Administrator’s hotline:

Toll-free: 1-877-858-7463
TTY: 1-888-858-7889

If I get turned down for the Lifeline program, what can I do?

A: If your LifeLine application or renewal is denied, you may appeal the denial.

If your disqualification can be corrected (e.g. forgot to sign the application), the LifeLine Administrator will give you an opportunity to correct it.

If you believe you have been disqualified improperly, you may file a written appeal with the CPUC. No verbal appeal will be accepted. Your appeal must be received by the due date stated on your disqualification letter. Your appeal must include the following:

A copy of your disqualification letter
A brief description of your complaint – Please limit your appeal to two pages or less. You can also use the back of your disqualification letter to write down your appeal; and any supporting document(s) to prove your eligibility.

Your appeal may be faxed to (415) 703-1158 or mailed to:

California Public Utilities Commission
Consumer Affairs Branch
505 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

File a complaint with the CPUC and document your complaint! Download TURN’s Need To File A CPUC Complaint fact sheet for additional help.

Can I keep my phone number if I enroll or un-enroll in the LifeLine Program?

A: Whether you are switching providers or enrolling/ un-enrolling in the LifeLine Program, you may keep your phone number (referred to as porting your number) so long as you are not moving to a different local exchange area. Contact your phone provider to ask about porting your number.

Can I get a LifeLine discount for both wireless and wireline services?

A: No, the rule is one discount per household. A Lifeline customer may only have one LifeLine discount to be applied either to the customer’s wireline (landline) phone service or to the customer’s wireless (mobile) phone service.

If you are currently a LifeLine wireline customer and you sign-up for LifeLine wireless service, your LifeLine wireline service will be disconnected or you will be responsible for the full amount of wireline service charges going forward. Similarly, if you are a LifeLine wireless customer and sign-up for LifeLine wireline service, your LifeLine wireless service may be disconnected or you may be responsible for the full amount of wireless service charges.

Please note, the California LifeLine Program is currently subsidized by both state and federal funding.

What if I want to sign up for the FCC Lifeline Broadband program?

A: The one per household discount rule applies here as well. The FCC supports broadband (internet) LifeLine services that do not include voice capability, but at a smaller discount of $9.25 which will be applied to a broadband subscription only if that broadband offer meets certain minimum standards and is offered by an eligible broadband service provider.. If you are a California LifeLine customer and you sign-up for the federal broadband (internet)-only LifeLine services, you will be unenrolled in LifeLine wireline/ wireless phone services and you may be disconnected or responsible for the full amount of wireline/ wireless phone service charges. Download the FCC’s Frequently Asked Questions here.

Does California have a Lifeline Broadband Program?

A: Not yet. TURN will keep California consumers updated and will post information as soon as it is available.

Do I have to pay a deposit for my phone service?

A: California LifeLine customers cannot be charged a deposit. However, when you are first applying for the LifeLine program, you may be required to pay a deposit or activation fees and other fees and surcharges while your application is pending; in which case, your phone provider must reimburse those fees to you after your LifeLine application is approved.

Can I sign-up for a bundled service if I have LifeLine?

A: Yes, however your LifeLine discount will apply to the voice service portion only of the bundled services.

How does the eligibility freeze and the portability freezes affect my LifeLine service?

A: An eligibility freeze and portability freeze (also known as a port freeze) limits how frequently a LifeLine customer can sign-up for LifeLine services or change phone service providers.

California is currently in the process of implementing a 30-day eligibility freeze, which means a customer cannot submit a second application for LifeLine services within 30-days of signing-up for LifeLine services with a provider even if you cancel the first application. Before signing-up for LifeLine services, please be sure to research phone service providers and different service plans to find a provider and plan that best fits your needs.

California is also currently implementing a benefit freeze that will limit a LifeLine customer’s ability to switch voice service providers for 60 days after the customer is enrolled unless certain conditions are met (i.e. customer is moving). For the federal broadband (internet) LifeLine service, LifeLine customers may not be able to switch broadband providers for 12 months after enrollment.

What are the taxes and surcharges on my landline telephone bill?

Some surcharges and taxes are required by the CPUC, FCC, or state and local governments, to fund 9-1-1 emergency services and services which provide telephone access to libraries, schools, in rural areas, to low-income consumers, and the disabled. Phone providers may choose to pay some of these required surcharges themselves or pass on the surcharge to their customers. There may be other surcharges that phone companies add to the bill, such as a “regulatory fee” that are not required by the state or federal government and the surcharge money goes straight to the phone provider.

For more information on typical FCC approved phone bill charges, visit go to the FCC website for more information. If you have questions regarding your bill, contact your phone provider.

What are illegal billing practices?

A: Illegal billing practices (also known as cramming or slamming) happen when a customer is billed for a service that the customer did not authorize. These charges are often for a few dollars per month, however these practices result in millions of dollars lost across all affected customers. For wireless phones, third parties may only add charges to your phone bill for services you purchase and authorize. Also be vigilant about telemarketing phone calls that might try to pressure you into changing phone providers or agreeing to additional charges on your bill. These companies are trying to record your consent. If you are uncomfortable with the sales people do not answer the call.

Be vigilant and check every phone bill you receive. If there is a charge that you do not believe you authorized or a company name that you do not recognize contact your phone provider or the third-party associated with the charge. TURN does not recommend withholding payment of undisputed charges, as this can lead to the suspension and possible disconnection of your telephone service. If your phone provider or the third-party is not willing to remove unauthorized charges, file a complaint with the FCC and CPUC.

For more information on illegal billing practices, go to the FCC website.

What can I do about unwanted telemarketing and Scams?

A: There are many steps you can take to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls. Start by registering your home and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Verify your registration by visiting the National Do Not Call Registry website, or calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236).

If you receive unwanted telemarketing calls, tell the caller that you do not consent to the call and to take you off their call lists, and make a record of the caller’s company name and phone number and when you informed them you do not wish to receive their calls.

Robo-Calls: If you receive a telemarketing robo-call, these calls can be associated with scams or lead to identity theft. Often the scam robo-calls will have a fake (or spoofed) caller ID name and phone number. Try record the date of the call, the caller ID name and phone number, and hang up. Contact your phone provider to request a block on the telemarketer’s phone number, and to request the phone provider to use its FCC approved robo-call telemarketing blocking technology (if they have it) to block telemarketing robo-calls. Until the FCC is able to develop a method or application to stop unwanted robo-calls, the best method may be to ignore or hang up on calls from unknown callers for now.

Report unwanted telemarketing calls to the FCC file a complaint at the FCC Consumer Complaint Center.

For more information, check out TURN’s information on how to stop unwanted calls.

What do I do if my complaint is about telephone service that is part of bundled services?

A: The complaint process is the same regardless of whether your telephone service is part of a bundle or is a stand-alone service. Go to: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

Who do I call if my water smells or tastes bad or is discolored?

A: Contact your local county health department. They may refer you to the California Department of Health Services. The health department can test your water and make sure the water company complies with the standards for water quality.

Do I have to pay for water that was lost due to a leak in my plumbing?

A: Yes. If you have a water leak it is important to have it repaired as quickly as possible to avoid excessive loss of water. The utility is not required to absorb the cost of water lost due to leakage in customer plumbing and service lines. The most common cause for high bills is not leaks in pipes but running toilets or dripping faucets. Even small drips can amount to a substantial water bill over time.

I can’t pay my water bill, what can I do?

A: California Alternate Rates for Water – The Commission is looking at low-income programs for water customers.  Currently, only Southern California Water Company’s region III has a program that offers a 15% discount for qualifying customers.  Income levels are the same as for the energy low-income program CARE.