article

Judges Reaffirm States Rights for Wireless Truth-in-Billing

FEATURE

Posted: 09/2006


Judges Reaffirm States Rights for Wireless Truth-in-Billing
By Kelly M. Teal

A federal appeals court has reaffirmed legal support for states rights to
require or prohibit the use of line items on wireless bills. The so-called truth
in billing matter directly affects providers, including MVNOs and cellular
carriers.

Judges for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in late July sided with
organizations including NARUC (the National Association of Regulatory Utility
Commissioners) and NASUCA (the National Association of State Utility Consumer
Advocates), and shot down the FCCs attempt to put line-item billing under
federal auspices. The commission had argued that overseeing line-item billing
includes the rates charged section, which is federally regulated.
Representatives for states rights, on the other hand, contended that segment
falls under the other terms and conditions portion of wireless services,
which the states regulate.

The ruling comes against a backdrop of congressional attempts to reform the
1996 Telecom Act. Most notably, at the end of June, the Senate Commerce
Committee added a wireless preemption clause to the Consumers Choice, and
Broadband Deployment Act of 2006. The amendment, if passed, would halt the power
of state regulators to oversee consumer complaints about their wireless phone
services, moving enforcement to an overburdened FCC.

CTIA The Wireless Association lobbied for the amendment, arguing state
preemptions were positive because they would lead to lower prices, more
providers and rate plans from which to choose, and the innovative design of new
devices. NARUC and NASUCA balked at the contention, questioning who would help
wireless customers when the industry does not respond, what could happen to
current agreements and service concessions.

NARUC and NASUCA leaders hailed the 11th Circuit Courts July 31 decision,
while proponents who included Sprint Nextel Corp. and Cingular Wireless LLC
lamented it. Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, said the judges
ruling underscores the need for a consistent national regulatory framework
for wireless services.

Creating a mish-mash of inconsistent state-by-state wireless regulations
will do nothing to benefit consumers and doesnt make sense, he noted in a
statement. Forcing wireless providers to establish different business models
in different states, whether its in all 50 or just a handful, for the sole
purpose of complying with disparate regulatory regimes will only increase
consumer costs and slow innovation.

The judges disagreed with that take, stating, The prohibition or
requirement of a line item affects the presentation of the charge on the users
bill, but it does not affect the amount that a user is charged for service.
State regulations of line items regulate the billing practices of cellular
wireless providers, not the charges that are imposed on the consumer.

Links
CTIA The Wireless Association
www.ctia.org

NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions)
www.naruc.org
NASUCA (National Association of State Uitility Consumer Advocates)
www.nasuca.org

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