A “pay-per-call service” is any service which a consumer pays for over a special phone line at a charge greater than the basic cost of the call. A wide variety of products and services can be obtained over a pay-per-call phone line. Most commonly, consumers call 900-numbers to listen to information or entertainment programs, or to participate in group conversations. In addition, some 800-numbers, which have traditionally been toll-free, now charge consumers for calls. In the metropolitan New York area, similar services are also offered on local telephone lines beginning with 540, 550, 700, 970, 976, and 394.
The Companies Behind Pay-Per-Call Services
A number of companies are involved in delivering a pay-per-call service program. The “information provider” is the business or individual who created the telephone program and is responsible for its content. The “long distance carrier” is the long distance company that the information provider has contracted with to carry the pay-per-call program. This will not necessarily be the long distance company which handles your regular long distance service. Your local phone company, known as the “local exchange carrier,” is usually responsible for the billing of 900-number services. In the Metropolitan New York area, NYNEX also plays the role of the “carrier” for 540, 550, 970, 976, and 394 numbers.
Regulation of Pay-Per-Call Services
In November 1993, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted the “900-Number Rule” to regulate 900-number services and to prevent consumers from being misled about the charges and the services they would receive. The rule covers advertising and operation of 900-numbers, as well as billing and collection procedures. (The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has parallel rules which govern the carriers of such services; this report is concerned primarily with those areas covered by the FTC.) The FTC rule also covers 800-number pay-per-call services in an indirect way. Pay-per-call services available through local 7-digit numbers beginning 540, 970, etc. are regulated by the New York State Public Service Commission.