FCC to propose bill shock regulations that rein in mobile fees

bill shock regulation to prevent this as pictured

Bill shock regulation proposed by the FCC aims to protect cell phone customers from surprise charges. Image: Thinkstock

“Bill shock” regulations to protect consumers from being burned by surprise mobile phone charges are being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission. Mobile users have been ambushed for years by surprise charges, but the issue came to the forefront last month when Verizon, under FCC pressure, agreed to refund customers about $50 million for bogus fees. The mobile industry has mobilized lobbyists to derail bill shock regulation, which the FCC is expected to open to public comment Thursday.

Bill shock rules prevent unpleasant surprises

Bill shock regulation proposed by the FCC  requires wireless carriers to alert customers by voice or text when they reach usage limits. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told the New York Times that the commission is also looking making carriers notify customers when they are about to get nailed for roaming or other extra charges not covered by monthly plans. Genachowski called the bill shock rules “nonburdensome” and “a terrific example of a 21st century consumer policy.” Wireless carriers oppose any bill shock regulation. In an FCC filing, AT&T said rules controlling customer service discouraged efforts to do better.

Bill shock a fact of mobile life

The FCC opened an investigation of bill shock last spring. PC World reports that the commission released a study showing that 30 million Americans had felt the pain of bill shock. Of 3,000 people polled, 17 percent said their cell phone bills increased from month to month without changing their plans. Based on the number of U.S. mobile customers, the FCC extrapolated the number to 30 million. In a rebuttal to the report, the Wireless Association accused the FCC of polling customers younger than 18 to pad results. The trade group also said the FCC asked misleading questions and that “bill shock” was an inflammatory term.

A shocking bill

Speaking of inflammatory, consider the story of Kerfye Pierre as reported by CNN. When Pierre returned to the U.S. after volunteering after the Haiti earthquake, she opened a cell phone bill totaling almost $35,000. T-Mobile had said it would provide her a “courtesy plan” letting her use her phone for free while she was setting up camps for children and distributing water to victims. T-Mobile neglected to say the plan only covered voice calls. The texts and Facebook messages she sent to family and friends weren’t covered.

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