FCC, U.S. Wireless Industry Come to Terms on Bill Shock

U.S. wireless providers have agreed to take steps to help customers avoid unexpected overage charges or so-called bill shock.”

The industry has agreed to send free alerts before and after customers reach a monthly limit on voice, data and text.

During a speech today at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said wireless providers also have agreed to alert consumers when they are about to incur international roaming charges that arent covered by their monthly plans and clearly disclose any tools they offer to let customers set their own usage limits and monitor such balances.

Coming on the heels of proposed FCC rules last year to address the pervasive problem of bill shock, the voluntary commitments have received the support of wireless providers representing about 97 percent of U.S. wireless customers.  

A 2011 survey by Consumers Union found that roughly one in five Americans with cell phone plans got smacked with unexpected charges on their bills the previous year. And horror stories abound: Genachowski said he met a woman who received roughly a $34,000 cell phone bill after visiting her sister in Haiti following the 2009 earthquake.

Speaking at an event today with the FCC and CTIA-The Wireless Association, Consumers Union Policy Counsel Parul P. Desai said it was his understanding that wireless providers have agreed to provide free alerts within 12 months.

We urge them not to wait and challenge each company to do it as soon as possible,” he said.

Kathleen Grillo, Verizons senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, commended Genachowski for his work that resulted in an industry solution rather than more federal rules.

The result is an industry code that will serve consumers better than rules that would soon be outdated, and that is responsive to President Obamas request that federal agencies avoid imposing unnecessary regulation on businesses when a nonregulatory solution is available,” she said.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps noted that the agencys underlying docket and proceeding on the issue will remain open.

Should bill shock remain a problem despite industry efforts, a future Commission will be able to adopt and enforce anti-bill shock rules,” he said.


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