FCC Proposes Rules for Carriers to Address 'Bill Shock'

Oct 22, 2010 — Allan Pulga

Just last week (Oct. 14), the Federal Communications Commission announced its new “bill shock” plan, which requires wireless carriers to begin alerting users once they have exceeded or are about to exceed voice, text or data usage.

“The proposed rules are three-fold,” wrote Chloe Albanesius of PC Mag (Oct. 14).

  • Wireless carriers must notify users – either by text message or voicemail – if they are about to go over their usage limits.
  • Alerts must be sent if users are about to accumulate excessive international roaming charges.
  • Carriers must clearly post information about usage tracking technologies they offer.

“It’s a simple idea,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (as quoted by Albanesius). “People should be told that they’re risking extra fees before they incur them.

“Companies should compete on the basis of value, price and service, not consumer confusion,” he added. “The FCC can play a positive role in that.”

Albanesius explains that stakeholders now have 30 days (since the Oct. 14 announcement) to submit comments on the proposed rules and an additional 30 days for reply comments. The FCC is also seeking feedback on whether smaller carriers should be exempted from these rules, or given more time to implement them.

Marguerite Reardon of CNET News offered a bit of context to this notion of bill shock (Oct. 13):

“In a report issued Wednesday (Oct. 13), the FCC said it had received 764 complaints of bill shock in the first half of 2010,” she wrote. “This is not a huge number, given there are more than 292 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. Still, of these complaints, the agency found that 67 percent of them were for amounts over $100. And 20 percent were regarding bills over $1,000. The largest complaint received during this time was for $68,505.”

I don’t know about you, but if I racked up a bill over $1,000, I’d be more than shocked. I’d be freaking out. I’ve had my share of surprising phone bills, so I’m glad the FCC is taking measures to ensure that carriers are more upfront about usage and billing limits, so that customers don’t feel they’re being taken for a ride.

"Most people don't know what a megabyte is," said Genachowski (as quoted by Reardon). "But they do understand when they get an alert telling them they're about to go over their limit and incur additional fees."

North Americans Have World’s Most Expensive Phone Bills

In related news, Stefan Constantinescu of IntoMobile.com reported (Oct. 18) that Americans and Canadians have the most expensive phone bills in the world.

“In a study published by the New America Foundation, the cheapest mobile phone bill for Americans hovers around $60, and Canadians get it even worse at $67,” he wrote. “India and Hong Kong on the other hand are on the other side of the spectrum, with their bill going as low as $12.90 and $13.50 respectively. Now if you’re thinking that this story sounds familiar, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development had similar results when they published their findings in August 2009.”

Topics: Wireless Trends, Mobile Industry

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