What Is The "Federal Subscriber Line Charge?" And How Can I Buck It?

Tucked into your landline phone bill is probably a very official looking fee called the “Federal Subscriber Line Charge,” but did you know it doesn’t go to the federal government?

It’s a fee the FCC allows phone companies to charge to recoup the cost of having phone lines connecting your house to the network. The only thing “federal” about it is that the FCC caps it at $6.50 per line.

Sometimes it’s referred to as a, “Federal access charge,” “Customer or Subscriber Line Charge,” “Interstate Access Charge,” or some other variation.

Having no other service provider available, and fed up with “the way AT&T masquerades fees as legitimate charges,” reader Samuel called up and threatened to cancel over it. He got AT&T to apply a $6 credit to his bill every month for a year.

What is the Subscriber Line Charge and why do I have to pay this charge? [FCC.gov]
Understanding Your Telephone Bill [FCC.gov]
(Photo: Jeremy Brooks)

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  1. ATTSlave says:

    I work in AT&T retentions and this is the first time i have heard of this. I never really did understand this. Now i’m just going to say that we do not have the ability to waive the charge. Now from what I am reading it sounds like Samuel is in the midwest region. (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, or Ohio) They didn’t waive the charge they gave him the standard retention promo so he would shutup.

  2. Buran says:

    @ATTSlave: Uh, yes it can be waived, since it’s not a required fee.

  3. ATTSlave says:

    @Buran:No it really can’t at least not in the disconnect department. The 6 dollar credit is just a standard retention offer.

  4. BRILLIANT!

  5. superlayne says:

    So if I just used a phone stuck to a pole I could save $6.50 a month?

  6. Crazytree says:

    @ATTSlave:

    “standard retention promo”????

    do tell…

  7. Buran says:

    @ATTSlave: That’s not what I meant. Yes, it can be waived. The government isn’t holding guns to your head and forcing you to do this. You’re just ripping people off because you can.

    We know your bullshit now.

  8. tk121 says:

    Calling up and requesting they credit this fee back is certainly a great idea and a great start. But only second to canceling outright.

    I used to have an AT&T line for $19.95 that they somehow managed to artificially inflate to almost 60 dollars a month through taxes, surcharges, and other nonsense.

    I ended up switching to an internet phone line and pay the exact advertised price with a minimal state sales tax of something like 6%.

    If you feel like this scenario sounds like you, I urge you to check into other options. They’re out there, and can save you a bunch of money each month.

    Cheers!

  9. econobiker says:

    Or how about that “Regulatory Recovery Fee” that these idiots charge?

  10. tcp100 says:

    @Buran: Buran, that’s pretty out of line. He works as an employee. He doesn’t write AT&T policies. HE probably cannot waive it. HE is not the chairman of AT&T. Ease up on the conspiracy theory stuff, eh? Ragging about company policy to a low or mid level employee will do absolutely nothing but cause headaches for yourself. If you want to make a statement, buy one share of T and show up at a stockholder meeting.

    And just so you know, as far as these charges go, even if you get them to symbolically do away with it, they’ll just pass the costs on to consumers in other ways. Natural competition is the only thing that will do away with this stuff. Granted, a beneficial law would be to roll these charges into the actual cost of the service – so they couldn’t advertise a $19.99 service that really ends up costing $36.

  11. tcp100 says:

    @superlayne: While I do not think the way telcos charge these fees are legitimate, there is a history behind all this stuff that people miss nowadays in the cell phone / VOIP world.

    Just like with rural electification, companies (oh, i know, so evil that they’re for profit) had to have some incentives to reach out into non-lucrative areas, such as rural america. Do you think that a $15/mo base phone line charge pays for the millions of miles of copper that were strung out to all the podunk towns and villiages in the deepest nether regions of this country? Think again.

    The telcos basically said they had to subsidize such expansion with fees spread across the customer base. Otherwise, they’d have to charge a customer in Quinter, KS $100 a month, whereas someone in NYC would pay a fraction of that.

    The FCC, as maligned as they are, allowed charges such as this to permit telephone companies to spread the charge over their entire base. Keep in mind as well, that in the past, phone charges were much more regulated. They couldn’t just throw an arbitrary number out there and call it the cost of service. Things such as dial tone, touch tone, message rate lines – everything was itemized and regulated per a publically published tariff rate.

    This was a valid model even up until the early 90s, when land lines and long-haul longlines were the primary mode of interstate telecommunications, and the phone system was really still the monolithic (and quite robust) handiwork of ol Ma Bell.

    Companies like Wiltel got around the cost by laying cable through old oil pipeline, but it wasn’t until the 2nd phase of long distance and local competition arose in the mid 90s (when companies other than the old RBOCs and the 3 heads of the old at&t – at&t, mci, and sprint – started showing up in the competitive market).

    The reason it still exists is the same reason the spanish-american-war-funding Excise tax just disappeared a couple years ago.. the FCC has not yet decided to outlaw it.

    Telecoms and legislation do not happen overnight, and this charge probably will go away soon enough. But, it ain’t gonna happen by yelling at CS reps.

    The FCC takes public hearings on all kinds of proposals for rulemaking, and they actually do listen to the citizenry. The only problem is, the only folks who have spoke up lately are people who are offended by boobs and Howard Stern.

    So, Buran, et al, want to make a difference? The address is http://www.fcc.gov. Leave the CS reps alone.

  12. Crazytree says:

    /points at screams at … @tcp100: NEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!

    jk, +5 informative.

  13. ATTSlave says:

    @Crazytree: Yeah there are a ton of promotional credits we can give you. Super secret rates on packages like All Distance. In Illinois we can give you a consumer choice package. We can even give you a recently grandfathered package. And if that doesn’t work we can just throw money at you.

  14. Naomi says:

    I am an ex-employee…people in the retention department, as I recall have a lot of money behind them to keep a customer from disconnecting their line. Even regular CSR’s have it. It is constantly reinforced to CSRs that it costs 7 times more to get back a customer that has left us than to do what it takes to keep the customer in the first place.

    When I was with the company there was a certain dollar amount that I could credit to a customer’s bill without requiring any supervisor approval at all. EVERYONE knew the supervisor code to credit 5x that and all you really needed was a small reason (like the customer was disconnecting) to justify using it.

    A $6 dollar monthly credit for a tariffed charge the customer didn’t agree with is small beans. $72 is under the CSR cap, and FAR under the supervisor cap.

    If I were the retention rep on this call, I would have said I couldn’t waive the charge (true). I’d love to waive it for him, because I understand he feels it is unfair (true). But I can’t (true). I’d ask the customer to wait on the line for a moment so I could speak to my supervisor about it (false). I’d come back and say my supervisor said I can’t do it either (somewhat true…we just can’t waive the charge…period). I’d ask the customer to wait again (now it seems like I’m really trying to do something for the customer). I’d come back and explain that I’m really not supposed to do this, but since I can’t waive the charge, but I really understand how unfair the charge is to the customer, I’d credit him an amount equal to the charge each month. Customer is happy thinking he and I have said DAMN the MAN, and I have done my job not even using the full credit resources allowed to me.

    Basically what I’m trying to say is this is NOTHING. It would be an interesting post if the customer has gotten two levels up ($5k credit cap without going to their boss), and gotten a credit for each time they had paid the fee over the course of their history with the company.

  15. forexproject says:

    This is unrelated but what ever happened to the sting operation that was supposed to come to light last week? I’m calling out the consumerist for false advertising. Is this a ploy to increase hits? What’s going on?

  16. SexCpotatoes says:

    Yeah, where’s the honeypot? Did Pooh get his head stuck in it again?

  17. Buran says:

    @tcp100: You too don’t understand what I am saying.

    I am saying that the fee is waivable because it’s a bullshit fee that the company is shoving on people because it knows there’s not enough competition and it knows all the competitors do it too.

    I am saying that “no law forces this to be done, therefore it can be removed”.

    I said nothing about whether his bosses will let him do it without firing him.

    Sheesh.

  18. tcp100 says:

    I dunno, but apparently we weren’t supposed to be let down by this one. Hrm.

  19. tcp100 says:

    @Buran: ” You’re just ripping people off because you can.

    We know your bullshit now.”


    If you were talking to the great gods of AT&T in the sky, fine – but it looked like you were addressing it directly to him, as if he, as an employee is ripping off people directly. This is what I was objecting to. A lot of people take out their aggressions towards a company on regular employees, which is absolutely counterproductive. I’ll guarantee that many other AT&T employees also agree that such fees are bullshit, but can’t do a damn thing about it.

  20. pc-vip says:

    OK, here’s the deal:

    There’s no way the employee can waive it. All the comments about how they can provide retention offers (“standard”, or otherwise) are 100% correct. But they cannot waive it.

    In fact, the CEO couldn’t waive it. The Board of Directors ciouldn’t waive it. Any of these people might WISH they could, and certainly the CEO or the bard could begin the process of effecting change so that it eventuall went away altogethr (HA!), but the sad truth is that at a company like AT&T, the computer systems simply aren’t set up in a way that it’s POSSIBLE to waive charges.

    Cynically, one could say this is by design…and that would probably be right. Regardless of the reason, though, it just plain isn’t possible.

    Jeff Yablon
    Preisent & CEO
    PC-VIP Inc.
    PC-VIP.COM

  21. cde says:

    @Buran: I’m pretty sure they don’t have a ‘Remove bullshit fee from customer’s billing cycle permanently” button on their computer. Why would they even program such a feature? It’s making them 6.50 a customer.

  22. AndriaNardywomps says:

    I just talked to AT&T about this and the customer service representative tried to tell me that this is a fee that goes to the federal government. When I argued with her on it citing fcc.gov she reworded her works saying that – it’s not a tax, it’s a federal fee that doesn’t necessarily go to the goverment.

    I know it’s not her fault that she doesn’t know what it’s for.

    I spoke to the supervisor who argued with me along the same lines – saying that she didn’t want to argue with me, even though she was. She told me that she couldn’t waive it. She couldn’t give me a credit. And she connected me to the cancellation department at my request.

    I’m unbelievably upset with AT&T customer service.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I called up AT&T about this charge and both the agent and his supervisor claimed that the Federal Subscriber Line Charge is paid to the FCC and I should write a letter of complaint to them. The agent, after some research on his own agreed that the fee is being paid to AT&T but the supervisor was adamant about claiming this fee goes to FCC. The supervisor even claimed that it is a *mandated* fee like all other taxes and surcharges and there is nothing that AT&T could do about it. I maintained that the money goes to AT&T and I have no dispute with FCC since they are actually doing me a favor by capping how much AT&T can charge us for.

    So I finally invoked the golden words “cancel my account, I’m switching to cable” and I was immediately offered a 50% reduction (i.e. $15) on my internet fee. I feel cheap for having accepted the offer in place of an actual explanation, but this seems to be the only recourse. Like @tcp100 suggests i’ll look into how to take this up with the FCC.

  24. Anonymous says:

    My mother is 85 and in assissted living. AT&T advertises that you can have a line for $16.00/month. True until you put in the surcharges and taxes, then it jumps $11.00 of which $6.50 is the Federal Line charge. The only calls she gets are from my brother and me and she makes no calls. There should be help for our elderly who are struggling to take care of themselves without being a burden and this charge should at least be waived for them.

  25. Anonymous says:

    RosettaMidas: You didn’t mention what state your mother lives in, but here in California all landline companies offer two versions of “Lifeline” service under guidlines set by the P.U.C. Customers who qualify, based on income or other circumstances, pay a substantially reduced monthly rate. A monthly credit equal to the Interstate Subscriber Line Charge is an additional ‘feature’ of the service. Monthly base rates in CA are currently $5.47/Flat-rate or $2.91/Measured. If your state offers a similar service, the measured service would save your mother the most, since incoming calls do not count toward the outgoing call allowance.