AT&T’s Landline Billing Practices

[This post is in reference to AT&T’s pricing in the Central Florida region.]

On our AT&T landline bill for 8/13/2014 – 9/12/2014, they prorated the “Federal Subscriber Line Charge” and “Federal Universal Service Fee” to a higher rate for 7/1 – 8/12—$7.28 instead of $6.78 and $1.14 instead of $1.12.

I am looking back at bills from 2013 and 2012 and they did this in those years too, but the fees increased by 22¢ and 26¢ instead of 52¢ this year. Also, the “Residential Line” rate is $24.00 now, was $21.00 in Aug. 2013, $18.00 in Aug. 2012, and $16.00 in May 2012.

People are getting rid of / have gotten rid of landlines in droves, and now the pricing is less regulated so AT&T’s solution is to jack up the rates much faster than inflation. They have to pay for maintaining a network with fewer and fewer customers, after all.

It is ironic that our bill for local phone service without long-distance, call waiting, caller ID, or any other features is now more than my cell phone with unlimited nationwide calling, call waiting, text messaging, and data—about $37 vs. $35 per month (MetroPCS at $70 for two lines on a family plan—it would be $40 for one line). We only keep the landline for family and so my step-mom can call her friend in Canada, and that is by dialing my local Google Voice number first and using it to dial out for free calls to Canada and free domestic long-distance (yes, local numbers in the Daytona Beach area on Google Voice are long gone, but they weren’t when I signed up in 2007—also, the service was called GrandCentral then and Google had not yet acquired it).

While the “federal” subscribe line charge (which actually goes straight to AT&T) is merely at the maximum rate allowed by law—if the FCC says they can double or triple next year, they will invariably do that—the base rate has also increased by 50% between May 2012 and Aug. 2014—from $16.00 to $24.00 per month. This is to use a network that already exists and hasn’t had major changes in decades.

In Central Florida, we are actually seeing the same practices with cable Internet with Bright House Networks as well. The base rate is now over $50.00 per month for 10 Mbps compared to $5 to $10 less a couple years ago, and a $3.50 modem rental fee now applies—but this “rental” was provided for free not long ago, and for $2.00 even more recently than that. The fee is closer to $4.00 since it has taxes and fees stacked on top. I have managed to pay less by buying a used modem for about $20, and by disconnecting and reconnecting as a new customer every six months or year with a new promotional offer—a ridiculous practice that involves them sending someone out to physically cut the cable at the pole and me relying on my phone and free Wi-Fi for up to a week while waiting for new service to be connected.

It is amazing in a period of such great technological innovation and upheaval that the pricing for basic services continues to increase while quality stays flat or declines, and is arguably an example of the declining standard of living in the United States. Based on observing ongoing trends, I believe we will only see more of this in the future.

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