Nickel & Dimed: A look at the fine print on phone bills

Nickel & Dimed | Where do all those fees go? #LiveOnKVAL Monday at 6 p.m.

Fees, fees and more fees seem to be a fact of life on your cable T and cell phone bills.

But what do they really pay for?

KVAL News got curious - and found out the price for service you see on a website may not be what you end up paying for.

Fees like regulatory charge - 84 cents a month on one his bills.

An administrative charge of $4.92.

So what's going on?

Aaccording to "Everyday Money", the average U.S. wireless customer pays nearly 18 percent of their bill in federal, state and local fees.

Charles Fisher of OSPIRG says most companies "bundle" the fees together.

"By pulling it out, they can advertise a lower rate and entice customers based on what they say they offer," Fisher explains, "but when you look at the fine print, you find out it's not quite the same."

KVAL News called customer service to ask about the $4.92 administrative charge on an actual phone bill.

The customer service rep explained that the fee paid for the "telephone company's phone calls, property tax, costs we incur responding to regulatory obligations."

It's a fee imposted not by the government, but by the carrier itself.

A customer service rep for a cable company explained the $4.97 franchise fee on the company's bill.

"The franchise fee is a percentage of the customers entire bill," the customer service rep said.

"There's a lack of transparency to consumers, especially in terms of what they actually mean," said Fisher, the consumer advocate with OSPIRG.

So the franchise fee on your cable bill? It's an annual fee charged by a local government to a private cable company as compensation for using public property it owns as right of way for its cable.

"There's no requirement to pass it on to consumers," Fisher said, "but they usually, invariably do."

Sam Pastrick is consumer advocate for the Citizens Utility Board of Oregon.

He read over the same bills.

"You lump them in aggregate, and no one wants to pay an extra $10 on their bill," he said.

But Pastrick said some fees serve a purpose.

"Some fees are in the public interest," he said. "Some fees benefit all of us, whether that's the relay service or 911 service."

Pastrick argues the bigger issue is the basic service charge we have to pay.

"On the whole, internet service bills are way too high. Mobile telephone bills are way too high, even land line bills can creep up there," he said.

So is there any recourse?

Pastrick said letters to regulators can help, like to the state public utility commission and the Oregon Department of Justice, which has a consumer affairs department.

"They do look at these things," Pastrick said. "They do pool complaints over time and look for trends and try to inform policy in that way."

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