Beginning this month, Hargray will charge customers $3 each time they pay their bills with a credit or debit card.
Citing mounting costs associated with such transactions, Andrew Rein, Hargray's vice president of sales and marketing, said the measure will not affect customers who pay by personal check or electronic billing through their banks.
"We're doing this because of increasing fees we have to pay to credit card companies," Rein said. "It's become quite expensive for us."
Hargray has enlisted a third-party vendor, Merchant Service Center on Hilton Head Island, to process its future credit and debit card transactions.
Additionally, Hargray will no longer accept payments made with an American Express card.
Rein said customers have received advance notice of the fee, both at the company's retail stores and in a note printed on their most recent billing statement.
"This will help us help them," Rein said, explaining that much of the revenue from the fee will be invested in improving the company's networks.
Rein declined to reveal how much Hargray had been paying in costs associated with credit and debit card transactions, but said it was a "meaningful amount."
Earlier this month, telecommunications giant Verizon scrapped plans to implement a $2 fee on customers paying their bills online or over the phone, in the wake of widespread public protest.
Rein didn't anticipate a similar reaction from Hargray customers, saying they likely understand the costs companies incur through card transactions.
"Certainly a few of them have been upset," he said, "but most understand why we're doing this."
Hargray isn't the only local utility company to institute a billing fee.
Charter Communications in Beaufort charges a $1.99 transaction fee for customers paying with credit and debit cards if an agent takes the charge over the phone, although that can be avoided by paying online through a personal account, or pay in person at a retail location.
A third-party agency for SCE&G levies $3.50 for credit and debit card payments, though there are ways customers can avoid the charge, a company spokesman said.
Palmetto Electric Cooperative does not charge any fees for customers using credit and debit cards.
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.