FCC Could Mimic EUs Treatment of Wireless Providers

That recent, well-publicized $18,000 Verizon cell phone bill must have been the breaking point for the FCC because the agency is considering forcing providers to alert consumers to potentially high charges.

“In the European Union, carriers are required by law to send text messages to consumers when they are running up roaming charges or getting close to a set limit for data roaming,” Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC’s consumer and governmental affairs bureau, said in a Tuesday press release. “We’re issuing a public notice to see if there’s any reason that American carriers can’t use similar automatic alerts to inform consumers when they are at risk of running up a high bill.”

The FCC’s timing is nothing short of, well, sort of timely. Late last month, a family in New England got its story out to the world that, four years ago, Verizon charged them $18,000 in overages. The operator then agreed to split the bill with the subscribers. The family wasn’t happy with the “compromise” and has been on the offensive ever since.

To be fair about the FCC’s response time, the consumer bureau wasn’t formed until January; the wheels of bureaucracy do move slowly, but they are moving now that staffers have received multiple complaints from the wireless public. (Note this beef: “I received a bill this month with over $500 in overage charges which led me to check my statement. I found that on my wife’s and my phones over the past three months we have had 246 calls totaling 304 minutes from [two unknown numbers].” We suspect there’s much, much more to that story.) Anyway, Gurin & Co. want to know whether there’s any “technological or other difference” that would bar mobile providers in the United States to abide by a law similar to the European Union’s. They also want input on the extent to which subscribers can monitor their minutes, text and data consumption, and how accessible that information is to people with disabilities.

Comments will be due some time this summer.

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