Telephone Service Options Available to Consumers
Consumers have relied on landline telephone service for more than a century and basic landline phone service was a consumers’ only method of telecommunication. Technology has created more communication options available and now the term landline is no longer synonymous with basic telephone service. Since only basic local exchange service is regulated in Ohio, consumers need to understand the differences. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) has developed this page to help explain your options for phone service.
Your service options
Basic Local Exchange Service
Basic local exchange service, sometimes referred to as BLES, is the simplest landline phone service available to consumers. With BLES customers can make local calls, but additional services like long-distance, Caller ID, voicemail, or other services are extra and may exclude consumers from protections. Ohio law provides consumer protections for BLES customers only, as well as disconnection and reconnection rights. OCC’s Your Guide to Telephone Disconnection and Reconnection provides more information.
Many telephone companies can now increase rates for basic service at any time, and yearly price increase caps are no longer in effect. Income eligible consumers may be able to obtain a discount on basic service through the Lifeline program. OCC’s Telephone Lifeline Programs in Ohio provides more information.
Some phone companies offer bundled services, which include a combination of phone, internet, and TV services. This can be a good way to save money, but be sure to read the fine print to make sure you understand all of the fees and charges. Bundled consumers are not protected by BLES laws and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Often confused with landlines, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP or digital phone service) calls are placed over an internet connection. Special equipment is needed to make and receive calls using VoIP technology with your landline telephone. The equipment can be supplied by your provider, but it may come with charges, including for setup. You should be able to keep your phone number if you switch to a VoIP service.
Unlike traditional landlines, VoIP may not work during a power outage. Problems with your Internet connection, or VoIP equipment may also affect your ability to make and receive calls. In addition, security systems or medical alert systems may still require a traditional landline to operate.
Ask VoIP providers about their policies on service quality, back-up power availability, and customer service issues. Remember, VoIP is not subject to the same rules and regulations as BLES phone providers and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov.
Wireless phone service
Wireless or cellular phone service allows residential consumers to stay connected just about whenever and wherever they want. Wireless service providers usually offer a variety of calling, texting, and data plans.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using wireless services such as taking your phone with you wherever you go. A disadvantage is that it may be unavailable during power outages. And some home security systems and medical monitors often require a landline for communication.
Some parts of Ohio lack wireless coverage. Check the wireless providers’ coverage maps for the areas in which you want to use the service before choosing a provider.
Before choosing a wireless provider, know your usage habits, like how many minutes you spend making and receiving calls, the number of texts you usually exchange, and the amount of internet data you use monthly. Wireless plans vary and you may pay overage charges if you are not careful. Be sure to ask about and compare all details.
Prepaid wireless phones are an option that you may want to consider depending on your usage habits. When choosing any provider—not just wireless—do your homework, especially the math behind the bill. Wireless customers do not have BLES protections and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov.
How to choose a phone provider
When deciding what service provider is best for you, there are a few things you need to consider:
- Your needs: How often do you make calls? Do you need long-distance service? Do you need any special features?
- Your budget: How much are you willing to spend?
- The provider's reputation: Read reviews to see what other customers have to say about the company.
- The provider's customer service: Make sure you can get help if you need it.
Make sure that the services and plans offered by the provider meet your calling and budget needs.
You can keep your current telephone number in many parts of Ohio, but you should make sure that you can before you decide on a new provider. Also, you should find out if you need to keep your current service until after the switch.
Questions to ask when switching phone providers:
- Is there a sign-up fee?
- Are there promotional offers and what happens when the offer ends?
- What is the contract period?
- Is there a switching or early termination fee?
- How will I be billed?
- What will my total monthly bill be (including all fees, taxes, and surcharges)?
- How are billing discrepancies handled?
- Are customer service representatives available 24 hours a day?
- How many customers are served by the provider and how large is its service territory?
- Are there payment assistance programs, such as Lifeline, available if needed?
- Is there a program for consumers with medical needs, such as priority repair schedules for consumers with serious medical conditions?
- Will eliminating my current service affect other services I need (i.e., security systems, medical monitors, or internet access)?
- Can I keep my current phone number?
- Do I need to keep my current service until after the switch?