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Public Law and Private Law Implications


Using the telephone as well as World Wide Web services by minors has never been discussed properly. Children tend to use the telephone for making paid calls and their parents refuse to pay the bills afterward. The question is whether these bills are the responsibility of parents who overlooked their children or the liability of the telephone company which permits underage making paid calls. The aim of this paper is to find an answer to this question using a concrete situation as an example.

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DWI is the owner and operator of local telephone companies which provides the consumers with the use of “900” numbers; at this, the billing for calling these numbers is owed to the company rather than to the business provider. Appalachian Bell is operated by DWI in North Carolina and Tennessee, and the company charges one of the consumers, the Kettles, &500.00 delinquency for the phone calls made by their twelve-year-old grandson. There are certain public and private law implications of this situation that make it almost impossible for the Kettles to appeal this delinquent billing.

Public and Private Laws

First of all, from the perspective of public law, the Kettles cannot benefit from the situation. They are, of course, consumers of the Appalachian Bell company which provides them with basic telephone services. “The term ‘basic telephone service’ means any wireline telephone exchange service, or wireline telephone exchange service facility, provided by a Bell operating company in a telephone exchange area” (DIANE Publishing Company, 1996). However, they cannot refer to Consumer Protection Act 1987 for their situation does not deal with misunderstandings connected with prices for services; this act states that the supplier of the services “shall be guilty of an offense if, in the course of any business of his, he gives […] to any consumers an indication which is misleading as to the price at which any goods, services, accommodation or facilities are available” (Macntyre, 2008). In the case of the Kettles, their grandson could hardly be aware of the prices for the phone calls but this does not mean that these prices were not indicated anywhere.

Moreover, neither can the Kettles refer to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (which is also a public law). The Act prohibits using “any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or another device to send an unsolicited advertisement to a telephone facsimile machine” (Hart, 2007) since the advertisement has not been sent to the Kettles but was found by their grandson himself. The service he had used is on the list of numbers provided by the company and the company specifies that the consumer pays for calling these numbers. The Kettles concluded a contract with their telephone company agreeing to the terms put forward by it. Under the law of contract (the private law), the Kettles are obliged to fulfill the provisions of the contract and to pay the bill.

However, the family has a chance of winning the case if they will be able to tie their situation to the underage sale. Underage sale of services, not only products, is punishable though when it comes to using paid telephone services by a child, the law is on the side of the company. Nevertheless, it is advisable for the company to enforce the ban on the usage of paid telephone services by minors.


Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, the Kettles will have to pay the telephone bill since the law does not make any provision regarding their case. In the future, they will have to watch over their grandson’s actions in order to avoid delinquency.


DIANE Publishing Company. (1996).Telecommunications Act of 1996: Public Law 104-104. DIANE Publishing.

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MacIntyr, E. (2008). Business Law. Pearson Education.

Hart, J.D. (2007). Internet Law, a Field Guide. BNA Books.

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