Telephone Service FAQs

shutterstock_101736883The rights of residential telephone service customers in New York State are set forth in the Telephone Fair Practices Act (TFPA), adopted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 1984. TFPA provides protections to wired (fixed) line residential telephone consumers regarding application rights, suspensions, terminations, reconnections, deferred payment agreements (DPAs), medical emergency rights, and complaint procedures.

TFPA applies only to basic local service to customers in private homes or apartments, including any part of a customer’s residence used for domestic purposes and not for business purposes. TFPA doesn’t apply to cellular telephone companies.

TFPA prohibits termination of basic local service for nonpayment of other charges such as long distance, call forwarding and Caller ID. However, customers that don’t pay for non-basic services may be blocked from other services unless they enter into a deferred payment agreement for all charges.

Please click on the arrow ( V ) to access the answer to each question.

Getting Service


Q. How do I get service?

A. An application for residential service may be made verbally or in writing. In most instances, a verbal application is sufficient. A verbal application is complete when the applicant’s name, address and, if applicable, the address of a prior account or a prior telephone number, are provided.

Q. Can the phone company require a written application?

A. Yes. The phone company can require a written application if there is an amount owed from a previous account at the premises or the application is made by someone who won’t be the customer. If the company requires a written application, it must inform the applicant within three business days of their request for service and must state the reason for the requirement. Written applications may require reasonable proof of the applicant’s identity and responsibility for service at the premises.

Q. What happens if my application is denied?

A. A completed verbal or written application is considered approved unless it is denied within three business days. If denied, the phone company must include the reason(s) for the denial, the requirement for an advance payment or deposit and state exactly what the applicant must do to qualify. The applicant must also be informed of its right to an investigation or review by the Commission in cases of denials or requests for advance payments or deposits.

If the denial of service and the required notification are made verbally to the applicant, the company must provide a written notice of denial to the applicant upon request.

Q. I have an outstanding balance on a previous account in my name. Can I get service?

A. If you have outstanding arrears for phone service under a prior account in your name, the phone company must still accept your new application must if: (1) you make full payment for the basic local service part of your prior arrears; (2) you agree to make payment for basic local arrears under a deferred payment agreement (DPA), not to exceed three months; (3) you have a pending billing dispute for the prior service and have paid any required amounts under the dispute procedure; or (4) the Public Service Commission (PSC) directs the provision of service.

Q. My application was accepted. When do I get service?

A. The phone company must provide service within five business days of acceptance or a later date specified by the applicant. The only exceptions are when service is precluded by strikes, law, issues of public safety, non-payment of or refusal to agree to pay reasonable installation costs, or physical impediments such as adverse weather or lack of access to the premises. The company must make reasonable efforts to eliminate these conditions and the Public Service Commission (PSC) may require extension of service within 24 hours or less.

If a customer moves to a different residence within the service territory of the same phone company and within twelve months requests residential service at the new residence, it is considered a continuation of service in all respects, including any deferred payment plan, unless the customer was terminated for non-payment more than 10 days prior to the new request for service.

Q. Can the phone company require a security deposit?

A. If you have any unpaid charges for local service which are outstanding more than 45 days or were terminated for nonpayment in the last six months, the phone company can require a security deposit or advance payment from you.

However, in determining whether to require a security deposit or advance payment, the phone company can’t include charges either subject to a deferred payment agreement (DPA) under which you are current or a dispute while the dispute resolution is in process.


Preventing Suspensions and Terminations of Service


Q. What is a suspension? How is it different than a termination?

A. Suspension means the interruption of outgoing service only and termination means the interruption of both outgoing and incoming service.  Blocking of non-basic service and optional features is a suspension subject to the Telephone Fair Practices Act (TFPA) as is long distance service unless the customer has selective access to other long distance providers.

Q. When can my phone service be suspended or terminated?

A. You phone service can be suspended or terminated if you:

  • Fail to pay charges due during the last six months or in excess of six months if there was a billing dispute or your conduct caused late billing; or
  • Fail to pay amounts due on a deferred payment agreement (DPA); or
  • Fail to pay or agree to pay equipment or installation charges for initiation of service; or
  • Fail to pay a lawfully required security deposit.

However, disconnection of basic local service is allowed only for nonpayment of charges for basic local service. Nonpayment of charges for other services such as call forwarding and caller ID does not justify termination of basic local service but may result in denial or blocking of the other services.

Q. Am I entitled to any notice of suspension or termination?

A. Yes. Notice of termination or suspension must be provided at least eight days prior to suspension and at least 20 days prior to termination. (Note - some telephone companies do not use the suspension procedures but use only terminations.) Notice of termination or suspension may not be sent until the 25th day after the date of the bill.

A termination or suspension notice must clearly provide:

  • The earliest date on which suspension or termination of service may occur;
  • The reason for the action and how it may be avoided, including the total amount needed to be paid to avoid suspension or termination;
  • The address and telephone number of the phone company;
  • Specific information advising the customer of the availability of complaint handling procedures;
  • The availability of a deferred payment agreement (DPA) highlighted in the notice;
  • A summary of the protections available under the Telephone Fair Practices Act (TFPA); and
  • A message printed boldly on the face of the notice specifically stating that the document is a final disconnection notice.

Q. When can my service be suspended or terminated?

A. Residential phone service can only be suspended or terminated from 8:00am - 7:30pm Monday through Thursday and from 8:00am - 3:00pm on Friday. Service cannot be suspended or terminated on days followed by either public holidays or days the phone company’s main business office is closed. Service also cannot be suspended or terminated from December 23 through December 26 and December 30 through January 2. Telephone service may be suspended or terminated following a determination that a customer’s facility is abandoned or is being used without the customer’s permission after five days- notice to the customer.

It’s important for you to indicate whether you’re making your payment specifically to continue service. Any payment known by the phone company to be made in response to a termination notice must be posted to your account on the date received or processed in whatever manner that ensures suspension or termination will not occur.

Q. What if I have a medical emergency or am elderly, blind or disabled? Do I have any protections against suspension or termination of service?

A. Yes. Special pre-termination procedural protections are provided to customers with household members who have a medical emergency or are elderly, disabled, or blind. In particular situations, the phone company must restore telephone service when arrears to the company remain unpaid.

A medical emergency exists when the customer or someone at the residence suffers from a serious illness or medical condition which severely affects the resident’s well-being and the absence of telephone service would create serious risk of inaccessibility of emergency medical assistance or assistance relating to medical care or professional advice.

A phone company cannot suspend, terminate, or refuse to restore basic local service for non-payment of monthly bills while a medical certification is in effect. A phone company may require certification by a medical doctor or local board of health official that a medical emergency exists at the residence. An initial certification of a medical emergency may be made by telephone as long as written certification is provided to the phone company within five business days. This certification must be submitted on the stationery of the doctor or local board of health and include:

  • The name and address of the doctor or the local board of health;
  • The doctor’s state registration number;
  • The name and address of the seriously ill person;
  • The nature of the serious illness or medical condition;
  • Any service beyond basic local service which may be necessary to reach the customer’s doctor because of the medical condition; and
  • An affirmation that the customer suffers from a serious illness or medical condition and affects the patient’s well-being and that the absence of telephone service would create a serious risk of inaccessibility to emergency medical assistance, assistance relating to medical care, or professional advice.

The initial certification is effective for 30 days from the time the phone company receives verbal or written certification, whichever occurs earlier.

Q. What if I have a medical condition that lasts more than 30 days?

A. The initial medical certificate may be renewed if the medical condition is likely to continue beyond the expiration date of the initial certificate. In order to obtain a renewal:

  • A medical doctor or qualified local board of health official must provide a written statement to the phone company indicating the expected duration of the medical emergency and explain either the nature of the medical emergency or the reason why absence of telephone service will create a serious risk of inaccessibility to emergency medical assistance or assistance relating to medical care or professional advice; and
  • The customer must demonstrate an inability to pay the charges for service, which may include submission of a form required by the phone company before any certificate renewal. Within five days of submission of the form, the phone company must determine if the customer’s liquid assets and current income are insufficient to pay telephone bills after taking into consideration the customer’s other necessary and reasonable expenses including food, shelter, medical, and other such necessities.

If the phone company determines that the customer does not have a financial hardship, it must provide the customer with a written notice of such determination and of the customer’s right to a review of the determination by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The suspension or termination is stayed pending the review. Normally, the renewed medical emergency certificate is effective for 30 days. However, in cases that are certified by the medical doctor or qualified local board of health official as chronic, the renewed certificate is effective for 60 days or such longer period as approved by the PSC.

After expiration of a certificate of medical emergency or a determination of no financial hardship, a phone company must send the customer a final notice of suspension or termination at least eight days prior to suspension and 20 days prior to the date of termination.

Even though service may not be terminated for nonpayment, the customer remains liable for telephone service while a medical emergency certificate is in effect and conventional collection remedies other than termination can be pursued by the phone company. A reasonable effort should be made to pay charges for such service. The PSC is available to assist customers in working out a payment schedule in order to avoid the accrual of substantial arrearages while the medical emergency exists.

Q. Are there any other protections for the elderly, blind or disabled customers against suspension or termination?

A. Yes. Special procedures must be followed by the phone company prior to suspending, terminating, or refusing to restore residential service to a customer known or identified to be blind, disabled or age 62 or older where all remaining residents of the household are age 62 or older, 18 or younger, or blind or disabled. In such cases, the phone company must wait an additional 20 days after the date of termination or suspension as stated on the termination or suspension notice before suspending or terminating service.

Further, the company must make a diligent effort to contact an adult resident at the customer’s premises by telephone or, if unsuccessful, in person, at least eight days prior to the date suspension or termination may occur in order to arrange a payment plan.

If a phone company is notified that a customer is blind, disabled, or age 62 or older after telephone service has already been suspended or terminated, it must restore service within hours and cannot then terminate service for an additional 20 days. The phone company must also make a diligent effort to contact, in person, an adult resident at the customer’s premises within 24 hours of such notification or as soon thereafter as practicable to arrange a payment plan.

Q. How can I get my service reconnected?

A. A customer’s residential service must be restored following suspension or termination within 24 hours, unless prevented by circumstances beyond the telephone company’s control or when the customer requests otherwise, if:

  • The arrears for basic local service have been paid in full;
  • The conditions that warranted suspension or termination have been eliminated;
  • The customer has entered into a deferred payment agreement for local service with or without a down payment;
  • The corporation has received notice that a serious impairment to health or safety exists for which telephone service is necessary, with all doubts to be resolved in favor of reconnection; or
  • The Public Service Commission (PSC) so directs.

If the phone company is prevented from reconnecting service for reasons beyond its control, service must be reconnected within 12 hours after these circumstances have ceased to exist.

Q. What is a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA)?

A. A residential phone customer of at least three months whose basic local telephone service hasn’t been terminated for nonpayment during that period must be offered a DPA before a phone company can suspend, terminate, or refuse to restore the customer’s service. Customers with medical emergencies or who are blind, disabled, or elderly are exempt from these eligibility criteria.

In the notice of termination, the phone company must advise the customer of the availability of a DPA. A DPA offer must be mailed to the customer at least six days prior to termination or suspension of service and must state the total amount of arrears, the down-payment, if any, and the size of each installment payment and when they are due.

If service has been terminated, the offer of a DPA must be made at the time the customer requests reconnection. A new DPA need not be offered to a customer who is in default on an existing DPA. A customer, however, may have their existing DPA renegotiated once in a month period if a demonstration can be made that the customer’s financial circumstances have changed significantly for reasons beyond their control.

If the phone company decides that a customer is able to pay their bill and that a DPA should not be offered, it must notify the customer and the Public Service Commission (PSC) of the reasons for refusing to offer a DPA. The PSC must then determine whether the customer indeed has the resources to pay their bill. The phone company cannot suspend or terminate service until the PSC makes its determination.

Q. Can the phone company require me to pay a security deposit?

A. Telephone companies may require a security deposit for customers who:

  • Are short-term, seasonal, or delinquent;
  • Have had telephone service terminated for non-payment during the past six months;
  • Have reportable charges with another telephone company;
  • Refuse to provide the company with access to their account history with other phone companies; or
  • Fail to provide reasonable proof of identity.

The phone company must provide notice that it intends to require a deposit at least 10 days in advance prior to the assessment of the deposit.

The phone company cannot require security deposits from recipients on public assistance, supplemental security income or additional state payments and persons aged 62 or older unless they have had service terminated for nonpayment of bills within the past six months.

Deposits must be for a reasonable amount not exceeding two times the average monthly bill for basic local service for a calendar year. The phone company must provide regular statements to each depositor who is entitled to a refund of the deposit if they are non-delinquent for one year or ceases to be a customer.

Q. Can I be charged interest or fees if I pay my phone bill late?

A. Yes. Telephone companies are permitted to impose late payment charges, fees, interest, or other charges on residential bills not paid within the time permitted. These charges must be approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The phone company must give customers on fixed incomes the opportunity to make payments on a reasonable schedule.




Q. What if I have a service or billing problem?

A. Customers with service or billing problems must first complain to the phone company, which is required to promptly investigate the complaint and report its results to the customer. The customer is entitled to receive a written report upon request.

The company must inform the customer of the Public Service Commission (PSC)’s complaint handling procedures in the event that the dispute is resolved in whole or in part in the company’s favor. Service cannot be suspended or terminated for nonpayment of disputed amounts while a complaint is pending before the company or the PSC or for 15 days after its resolution, unless otherwise provided by the PSC.

The customer must pay the undisputed portion of the bill as a condition of continued service during the dispute resolution process.

Q. If I can’t resolve the problem with the company, can I complain to the PSC?

A. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has a web-based mechanism for consumers to file complaints against service providers. The PSC also handles complaints via its toll-free telephone number and in writing. If the problem cannot be resolved through this initial, informal process, the customer can request the PSC to further investigate the matter and notify them of their findings and decision.

If the customer believes the initial decision is wrong, they can request an informal hearing. If through the hearing process the customer and the utility are unable to settle the complaint, the hearing officer will make a decision on the complaint and notify the customer in writing of the decision. If the customer believes that the officer’s decision was wrong, they can then appeal the decision to the PSC. The appeal must be in writing and must contend that the hearing officer made an error that affected the decision or that evidence now, but not previously, available would affect the decision. The PSC will then make a decision on the appeal and notify the customer in writing of its decision.



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