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Pricing and consumer protection

Retail pricing

What rules govern retail pricing for telecoms services?

Retail pricing for telecoms services is generally regulated at the state level. States have authority to regulate prices, but in recent years many states have moved away from direct price regulation for most services.

Consumer contracts

What rules govern consumer service contracts?

The general rules of consumer protection govern consumer telecoms service contracts. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted the ‘truth-in-billing’ rules to regulate consumer telephone bills (47 CFR Section 64.2401). These rules require brief and non-misleading plain-language descriptions of services for each charge, full lists of all charges and other rules to ensure consumers are able to understand their telephone bills.

Disclosure requirements

Are telecoms service providers bound by any consumer disclosure requirements?

Some sensitive customer proprietary network information is restricted from disclosure. This information includes the telephone numbers a subscriber calls, the frequency, duration and timing of such calls and additional services purchased by the customer. Telecoms carriers are required to file annual reports ensuring compliance with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure rules.

Competition

Issues and concerns

Are there any particular competition issues or concerns in the domestic telecoms market?

The telecoms industry is highly consolidated. The wireline industry in particular has consolidated again after the break-up of the Bell system in the 1980s. The wireless industry has four major competitors. The cable industry is also highly concentrated, with most cable companies seeking to dominate their local franchise area. Further, major cable and telecoms companies are beginning to acquire content producers to create vertically and horizontally integrated companies. These companies also provide the vast majority of broadband access to consumers, providing additional competition concerns.

Sector-specific regulation

Do any sector-specific competition regulatory/legal provisions apply (eg, special conditions for dominant telecoms market players)?

Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 regulates telecoms companies as common carriers, while Title VI regulates cable systems and includes rules affecting must carry, retransmission consent, closed captioning, emergency alerts and franchising.

Separation

Are there any requirements for structural, functional or accounting separation of operators’ activities?

Telecoms carriers must separate out intrastate, interstate and international charges for the purposes of Universal Service Fund and other regulatory payment obligations such as the Telecommunications Relay Service numbering funds. 

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