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Operator Services
Changes continue to sweep through the telephone industry. For example, increased competition has spawned a variety of new services, including non-traditional operator services.
These companies go by various names, such as alternative operator services (AOS) or operator service providers (OSP). For the purpose of this consumer bulletin, we'll call them OSPs.
As with other changes, the introduction of non-traditional OSPs has resulted in confusion for some customers.
To help customers better understand OSPs; the Oregon Public Utility Commission has developed the Consumer Bulletin.  It is designed to answer the most commonly asked questions and help consumers avoid problems associated with using OSP companies. 
What is an OSP?
Typical operator service provider contracts with a business such as hotel, motel, hospital or airport that has telephones used by a transient public. OSP companies also operate some payphones or by businesses that have contracts with OSPs.
This arrangement allows the OSP to make money by handling operator-assisted and credit card calls and allows the hotel or other business to make money by receiving a commission for the OSP-handled calls.  The OSP industry developed as a result of more competition and less regulation of the telecommunications industry nationwide.
Rates charged by OSP companies vary. Some charge rates higher than those charged by traditional phone companies, which has resulted in some complaints to state utility commissions, including the Oregon PUC. Those rates are not regulated, but the companies must give rate information to customers who request it.
Billings for OSP services typically are included on local phone company bills, but itemized separately.
How will you know if an OSP is handling your call?
First of all, OSP companies, or the owners of the phones on which OSP-handled calls are placed, must post information near the phone giving the name of the operator service company handling the calls.
Also, operator service companies are required to identify themselves at the beginning of all calls they handle.
Those requirements and others are difficult to enforce in today's competitive telecommunications environment. It is important that customers are alert when making contact and before you have completed the call.
What protections are there for consumers?
As mentioned, OSP companies, and traditional companies that provide operator services, are required to identify themselves at the beginning of calls they handle.  They also must post the name of the OSP company and other information near the phone, and must disclose rate information on request.
In addition, all operator service companies:
  • Must maintain a current list of emergency numbers and must transfer emergency calls to appropriate emergency numbers when requested, free of charge.
  • Must transfer calls to the local phone company's operator service at the caller's request or instruct the caller how to reach that operator, at no charge.
  • Cannot transfer your call to another operator service without your permission.
  • Cannot screen calls and prevent or "block" calls that would allow you reach an operator service of your choice.  In some cases customers can dial specific codes to reach a particular phone company; an OSP cannot block that call from going through. In some cases customers can dial specific codes to reach a particular phone company; an OSP cannot block that call from going through.
In the case of calls made from pay phones, the phones must allow free 911 dialing or free emergency access to an operator.
Also, PUC rules prohibit a phone company from disconnecting your basic local phone service if you fail to pay for OSP or other charges not related to basic local service.
How does the PUC regulate operator services?
The PUC does not fully regulate OSP companies. For example, OSP rates are not regulated. Full regulation would increase the costs of services and impede competition.  However, OSP companies must obtain a certificate from the PUC to operate in Oregon.
The requirements imposed on operator services, adopted by the PUC after lengthy investigation, are designed to protect you by helping you get the information you need to make an informed decision when you use operator services.
Companies that violate PUC rules are at risk of losing their certificates and their ability to operate in the state.
What if I have a complaint about an OSP?
If you have a complaint about OSP charges when you receive your bill, contact the OSP company directly.  The company's name and phone number will appear on the bill.
If you believe an operator service company has incorrectly handled a call or violated another rule enforced by the PUC, contact the PUC Consumer Services Division in Salem.  You may contact the office toll-free at 1-800-522-2404.
When you contact Consumer Services, be sure to have an exact location and/or phone number of the telephone where you placed the call or calls.  A consumer analyst will investigate the complaint and contact the OSP company in an effort to gain compliance of the rules and resolve problems.  If problems persist with an operator service company, action may be taken to revoke the company's certificate to operate