A key to decoding residential phone bills:
* Subscriber line charge, or SLC, pronounced slick. This federally ordered charge is capped at $3.50 a month. It pays for the phone line from the local phone company into the home.
* Pre-subscribed inter-exchange carrier charge, or PICC, pronounced pixie. The new charge, which varies by company, stems from last year's government overhaul of phone fees. It pays for long-distance companies' use of the local phone network and appears on bills under different names, depending on the company. MCI charges $1.07 a month and calls it a national access fee; AT&T charges 85 cents a month and calls it a carrier line charge; Sprint charges 85 cents a month. On Sprint-sent bills, it is called a pre-subscribed line charge. When Sprint bills through local companies, it is called a regulatory-related charge.
* Universal service fund charge, or USF. Long-distance companies pay the bulk of this charge, which is passed along to their customers. The charge, which varies by company, pays for government-mandated subsidies: making local phone service affordable to the poor and people living in rural and other high-cost areas; and paying for cheap Internet hookups for schools, libraries and rural health-care providers.