Pacific Bell, whose aggressive marketing of phone services got it into hot water, was ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday to begin itemizing all fixed charges on its monthly residential phone bills starting March 1.
The PUC ordered Pacific Bell to break down each customer's monthly service charge into mandatory fees and charges for additional options, which are now lumped together into a single charge. The optional services that will be broken out include unlisted phone numbers, call-waiting signals and call-forwarding service.
Pacific Bell's basic charge is $8.25 for flat-rate service, which offers unlimited calling within a customer's local service area. Customers can also choose measured service, which costs $4.45, plus additional charges for calls made during the month.
The company also offers two types of "lifeline" service for customers whose household income falls below state-set limits. The fees are $3.48 for unlimited local calling or $1.48 for up to 60 local calls, plus 10 cents a call for the next 10 calls and 15 cents a call for all other calls.
Separately, the PUC slightly increased the income limits to $12,100 for a household of one or two people and $14,100 for households of three people. For each additional person in a household, the limit goes up $2,900.
The PUC order follows the commission's undercover investigation into consumer complaints of overzealous marketing practices by Pacific Bell sales agents. Investigators found that the company was offering service "packages," not authorized by the PUC, that combined flat-rate, measured and lifeline services with other, more costly features that as much as tripled the cost of basic phone service.
In some cases, the investigators found, Pacific Bell customers were unaware that basic service could be ordered by itself.