Verizon Wireless To Refund Mistaken Data Charges, But FCC Still Will Continue Probe

Verizon Wireless will remain at the center of an FCC investigation into data charges, despite the companys plan to repay customers more than $50 million in what it calls mistaken” billing.

On Monday, the day after the nations largest wireless carrier said it will issue refunds starting this month, FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison said the agency will continue its probe into the matter. The FCC 10 months ago started looking into consumer reports about the so-called mystery fees” for undesired data access that kept appearing on statements. Now, though, even as Verizon Wireless returns the money, regulators wont back down from looking into the providers practices.

We’re gratified to see Verizon agree to finally repay its customers,” Ellison said in a statement. But questions remain as to why it took Verizon two years to reimburse its customers, and why greater disclosure and other corrective actions did not come much, much sooner.”

Ellison added that the Enforcement Bureau could fine Verizon Wireless over the problems.

Telecom analysts at investment bank Stifel Nicolaus said the government action marks a trend that could create some cost increases and revenue pressure” for companies such as Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless itself was saying little about the dustup. In an Oct. 3 press release, Mary Coyne, deputy general counsel, said the operator has addressed the issues to avoid unintended data charges in the future.”

Earlier that day, Verizon said it had incorrectly charged about 15 million customers for data sessions, most of which involved minor data exchanges caused by phone software. Verizon said the affected subscribers will receive anywhere from $2-$6.

The FCCs investigation comes as the agency on Oct. 14 plans to will open a bill shock” rulemaking that could require mobile operators to send usage alerts to customers, and as the agency reviews wireless early termination fees, which have been criticized as excessive. 

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