Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate

 

 

Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate
555 Walnut Street
5th Floor Forum Place
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1923

Phone: 717-783-5048 or toll free 800-684-6560
Fax: 717-783-7152

Email: consumer@paoca.org

Do your "Short Distance" phone calls have to be toll calls?
Extended Area Service (EAS) may be an answer for you.

What is Extended Area Service (EAS)?

Extended Area Service makes your toll-free "local" calling area bigger. Instead of paying a toll call charge for each call to a certain area, you would pay for these calls as part of your local service. With Extended Area Service many customers find that they can save substantial amounts on their toll bills. These savings may be reduced in part by an increase in local service rates. Here's some history and how EAS could work for you.

Each local calling area is made up of a number of small geographic areas called "exchanges." You may be able to call many exchanges, different from yours, without those calls being toll calls.

The phone companies originally set local calling areas based on their customers' calling patterns in a particular area. People in the community and the main places of business and social activity make up a "community of interest." They should be able to call each other locally and toll free. If the toll bills in your area are very high, that may show that your local calling area is too small. Your community may qualify for EAS. The PUC can require your phone company to provide EAS.

How would you start the process?


1. You should think about the area you and your neighbors need to call daily or several times weekly. Is it the area where your children go to school, where there are health care facilities or hospitals, community services, local government, places of employment, shopping facilities? Because of development over the years, the original needs of the community may have changed or grown. If these facilities are now outside your local calling area, then your community of interest may be larger than your current local calling area. If that is true, you may want to try to expand your local calling area through EAS.

2. Request EAS information from your local telephone company. Ask them for information about the number of calls between your exchange and the one you want to call toll free. They may have results from a study they did in the past.

3. If your local phone company does not take action, you may have to make your request to the Public Utility Commission in writing by filing a formal complaint. Your formal complaint should explain why you want EAS and the steps you have taken so far to get it. You can get formal complaint forms from the PUC by writing to:

Secretary, PA Public Utility Commission
P.O. Box 3265
Harrisburg, PA 17105-3265

The Office of Consumer Advocate can also send you the formal complaint form or you could download the form in pdf format using the Adobe viewer.

What happens once you file a formal complaint with the PUC?

The formal complaint process will begin with a copy of your complaint going to the telephone company. The PUC will assign an Administrative Law Judge (Judge) to your case. A determining factor in the decision-making process will be how much you and your neighbors need to call the other area. The PUC may schedule hearings on the issue. You should be able to show that there is strong interest, besides your own, by gathering support of other customers in your area, who also want EAS. They could take part in the hearing process and testify as to their own interest in the matter. The more support you are able to show, the more positive influence it will have on your case.

You should spread the word about the possibility of extending your local calling area. If the Judge can see the strong interest on customers' part, the Judge may require a study of your area's calling patterns. The Judge will consider those results and any other evidence you have in making a recommendation to the PUC Commissioners. The Commissioners will make the final decision as to whether you will get EAS.

In some cases, EAS would increase monthly local charges. If that is the case, the PUC would order a customer polling. Your local telephone company would then send a letter, describing the request for EAS, to all customers in your exchange. The letter would also explain that if there are enough votes to extend the toll-free area to include another exchange, they would do so.

The letter would include a ballot for the customers to fill out and return. In order for the poll to be valid, at least 50% of the ballots have to be returned. If at least 50% of those returned are in favor of EAS, then that exchange will receive EAS. The more people that understand the advantages of EAS, the more that may return the poll favorably. If the poll fails to support EAS, you must wait at least two years for another poll.

Remember: If you receive EAS, local rates may go up by some amount each month when your calling area expands. In most cases where EAS is implemented, customers feel that the savings on toll calls greatly exceed any increase in local phone bills.


Do you have any other options to reduce your toll bills?

Yes. There are two other options that may be of interest to you.

1. Optional Calling Plan
Where there is a large amount of calling traffic from one area to another, even if EAS is unavailable, your present local phone company may offer Optional Calling Plans (OCPs) to both residential and business customers. There are two choices:

· Place unlimited calls to the receiving area for a flat fee, or
· Buy a block of time for each billing period for calls to the receiving area.

These Optional Calling Plans are designed to save you money as compared to paying normal toll charges on a call-by- call basis.

2. Competitive Offerings
There are local and long distance companies listed in the yellow pages of your phone directory under "Telecommunications Companies." One or more of them may offer a plan that would be good for you. They may offer a plan for short distance toll calls or long distance calls for less than you are paying now. When you call them, it would be a good idea for you to have your record of how many times you call a certain area and what you pay for those calls. That will make it easier to compare rates.

For questions or comments regarding Extended Area Service you can call our office at (800) 684-6560 or use our E-mail address: consumer@paoca.org

 
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