What is a Telephone Tariff?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A telephone tariff is a detailed listing of prices and fees associated with telephone service. Phone tariffs, as they are also known, are provided to members of the public, often by law, and in some cases, they must be approved by government agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. For convenience, many phone companies provide their tariffs online, although a consumer must be rather dedicated to plow through the entire tariff document.

A telephone.
A telephone.

In a telephone tariff, the telecommunications company must detail the costs and fees associated with all of the services it offers, from connecting phone service in a residence to placing international calls. The tariff is usually extremely detailed and very precise, with a breakdown of all of the costs involved in phone service and a discussion of every potential situation which could arise. As a result, a telephone tariff can sprawl on for numerous pages.

Telephone tariffs are detailed listings of prices and fees for phone service.
Telephone tariffs are detailed listings of prices and fees for phone service.

In addition to including rates for basic service, a phone tariff also includes a discussion of taxes for phone services, fees which may be charged by other carriers, and other costs which may come up. The tariff document also includes an extensive discussion of fees for calls. Many phone companies have a tiered fee system for toll calls which is based on distance, so the fee for calling a neighboring state or province will be different than the fee for placing a call to a more remote location, and fees can also be charged when calls cross international borders.

In areas where the government must approve a phone tariff, the document is submitted to a government agency which reviews it to determine that the tariff meets disclosure laws. The government is not so interested in the fees charged by the phone company, but it is concerned that the tariff be detailed and clear enough to be understood, and to remove any ambiguity in fees. In other words, a consumer should be able to cross-reference every single charge on a bill with the telephone tariff associated with his or her telecommunications company.

Consumers can also ask to have portions of the telephone tariff explained to them if they are confused about any charges or fees on their bills. In some regions of the world, companies provide tariff comparison services which people can use when shopping for phone service, to find the plan that works best for their needs. These services can also include a discussion of “hidden” fees which cause phone bills to bloat far beyond the quoted basic price.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


When I was reading through this article, I thought, "How many directory telephone calls do companies really get asking them to explain there telephone tariffs?" However, I imagine they get a pretty significant number.

I used to work at an insurance agency, and people would call for an explanation of literally a one dollar increase on their bill! There are some people who like to know about every dime they're spending for a service. But they don't want to take the time to read through a long document, so they call up the company for an explanation! These are the people that I imagine call about telephone tariffs.


@strawCake - It's funny you say that, because my mother is just such a consumer. Awhile back she thought her and my stepfather were getting overcharged on their telephone bill. So she looked up the telephone tariff online to double check!

After going through all that effort, she found that her bill was actually correct. At least now she has a little more peace of mind. Still, I don't know if it was really worth taking the time to look at the Internet tariff just to be sure!


I really take my hat off to anyone who can plow through an entire telephone plan tariff. I can barely understand the charges that are on my cell phone bill! I can only imagine trying to get through pages and pages of descriptions of phone charges.

That being said, I do think that it's a good thing this information is out there for consumers. At least for the people who want to take the time to read it! I think it probably keeps phone companies a bit more honest since they have to make a full, public accounting of all their charges.

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