Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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About the Surcharge

The emergency telephone users surcharge, also known as the 911 surcharge, is a surcharge generally collected on a customer's monthly telephone bill on charges for certain intrastate telecommunication services that the customer (service user) received from a service supplier. The 911 surcharge funds collected help make emergency telephone service available to persons in this state by supporting the costs of installing, administering and supplying communication services for the “911” emergency telephone number system.

The California Office of Emergency Services decides how funds are distributed to local agencies and service suppliers.

Service users owe the surcharge. It is imposed upon amounts paid by every person in the state for intrastate (origin and destination are within California) telephone communication services or intrastate Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service that has access to the “911” emergency system. Generally, the surcharge is collected by service suppliers or VoIP service providers and paid to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Service suppliers must collect the surcharge amount from service users, generally on the monthly service billings, and pay it to the state.

The emergency telephone users surcharge applies to all charges (prepaid and postpaid) for intrastate (origin and destination are within California) telephone communication services or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) charges for telecommunication services or VoIP services that utilize the “911” emergency system.

Registration

  • Telephonic service providers/service suppliers
  • Any person providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service with access to the “911” emergency telephone number system
  • Service users that did not have the surcharge collected by a service supplier

Go to our online registration system, by clicking the “Register” button on the CDTFA website. Select “Register a New Business Activity or Location” to get started. Visit our “Information Needed to Apply for Permit, License, or Account” webpage for help to complete your application.

You may also register in person at one of our office locations by using a kiosk or completing forms that are available upon request. If you have questions, please contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 TTY: 711, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Pacific time), excluding state holidays. From the main menu, select the option for Special Taxes and Fees.

A surcharge registrant may also need a Seller's Permit from the CDTFA. If you plan to provide telecommunication services within California, you must first register with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). For information regarding CPUC requirements, visit the CPUC website or call 1-415-703-2782.

Visit www.calgold.ca.gov for help with permit and licensing requirements for other state, federal, and local authorities (for example, you may need to be registered with the Franchise Tax Board or the Employment Development Department.

Visit the California's Tax Service Center for additional tax information.

You may also want to consult with a tax professional for assistance about other agency requirements.

It is important to keep your account current with the CDTFA as we will notify you if the rate changes. Surcharge registrants should notify the CDTFA of any change of business ownership, email address, mailing address, location address, phone number or fax number to ensure that returns and information about the surcharge are received timely. Use form CDTFA-345-SP, Notice of Business Change, Special Taxes and Fees Accounts to notify the CDTFA of changes.

You may also contact the CDTFA Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY: 711) and select the option for Special Taxes and Fees or send a message through our website through Email Your Tax Questions.

Current and historical emergency telephone users surcharge rates are available on the CDTFA Tax and Fee Rates webpage.

No. Do not include the surcharge amount in your sales or use tax calculation.

  • Charges for interstate (origin and/or destination are outside of California) telephone communications.
  • Charges imposed on certain types of entities may be exempt from the surcharge. [See Revenue and Taxation Code (RTC) § 41027, 41046]
    • Nonprofit hospitals,
    • Nonprofit education organizations,
    • Public agencies, and
    • Insurance companies (that pay the California gross premium insurance tax).
  • Charges for intrastate telephone communication services and VoIP service that are exempt from the federal communication services tax pursuant to Section 4253 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 [RTC § 41046].
  • Public purpose fund charges including: Access Recovery Charge; Universal Service Fund Charge (USF); Universal Lifeline Telephone Service (ULTS); California High-Cost Fund-A and Fund-B (CHCF-A & CHCF-B); California Teleconnect Fund (CTF); California Relay Service and Communications Devices Fund (CA Relay/Comm), also known as the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunication Program (DDTP); California Advanced Service Fund (CASF).
  • Charges for basic exchange services for lifeline participants.

No. The surcharge does not apply when a calling system is utilized that does not access or does not allow access to the "911" emergency system. The emergency telephone user surcharge is imposed only on the intrastate telecommunication services where the user can access the "911" emergency system by utilizing the digits 9-1-1.

Return Filing and Making a Payment

Service suppliers will report the emergency telephone users surcharge on the CDTFA-501-TE, Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge Return. The surcharge return and/or payments are due on or before the last day of the second month following each reporting period. For example if your reporting period is for the month of January, the return and/or payment are due on March 31st. The CDTFA-501-TE is due on either a monthly, quarterly, or yearly filing basis. Your filing frequency will be determined by the CDTFA at the time you register. Returns and/or payments must be postmarked by the due date to be considered timely.

Service suppliers may contract with a CDTFA-registered billing aggregator (definition found here) to collect some or all of your intrastate telephone communication charges, including VoIP charges, and to pay the emergency telephone users surcharge to the CDTFA. See formCDTFA-501-TE instructions for details.

Yes, you can. To file your return online, go to the Log In page, enter your Express Login Code (located at the top of your return) and your Account Number, then click on the appropriate reporting period to access the return. You may also log in using your User ID and Password.

If you currently don't have a User ID, you can create one for your account on the Log In page by clicking on the link "Create a User ID" at the bottom of the "Express Login" box. If you are already a Registered User and have other CDTFA accounts, use the "Link An Account" function to add your Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge account to your User ID.

Please note, you must be registered with the CDTFA as the owner, partner, corporate officer, LLC Member, etc., on the account to create a User ID. To update your account or if you need assistance with online filing, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY:711) Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., (Pacific time), excluding state holidays. From the main menu, select the option for Special Taxes and Fees.

Service suppliers (persons supplying intrastate telephone communication service or VoIP) can use the following sources to calculate the interstate portion not subject to the surcharge:

  • Books and records used in course of business.
  • Traffic or call pattern studies of service provided to customers within California.
  • FCC VoIP Safe Harbor factor effective on September 1st of previous year. For Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service only.

After calculating your interstate charges and subtracting them from your total charges, the remaining charges represent the intrastate portion subject to the emergency telephone users surcharge.

When filing online, you are able to file and pay the surcharges due in one transaction.

Other payment options are available including: check, money order, credit card, or Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT). Please note that for credit card payments, a service fee of 2.3% of the transaction amount will be charged by the credit card processing vendor.

Emergency telephone users surcharge registrants with an estimated average monthly surcharge payment of $20,000 or more are required to pay by EFT.

Records must be retained for at least four years from the date the surcharge is due unless the CDTFA authorizes you in writing to destroy them sooner. For additional information regarding record retention, please view Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge Regulation 2431.

If you have overpaid a surcharge directly to the CDTFA, you may file a refund claim by using form CDTFA-101 Claim for Refund or Credit, Claim for Refund or Credit or by filing an amended return(s) stating the specific reason(s) for the overpayment. Claims for refund must be in writing and should specify the period for which you are making the claim and the amount of the refund.

Mail claims to:

California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
Business Tax and Fee Division
Appeals and Data Analysis Branch (MIC: 33)
P.O. Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279-0033

Whichever of the following dates occurs last is your filing deadline:

  • Three years after the due date of the return on which you overpaid the surcharge
  • Six months after you overpaid the surcharge
  • Six months after the date a determination (billing) became final
  • Three years after the CDTFA collected an involuntary payment, such as from a levy or lien

Be sure to file your claim for refund by the applicable deadline. If you don't file timely, the CDTFA cannot consider your claim, even if you overpaid the surcharge. Additional refund details are on the CDTFA's website. If you have further questions about your refund claim, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115. (TTY:711) Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Pacific time), excluding state holidays. From the main menu, select the option for Special Taxes and Fees.