2010-10-22 / Top Stories

Weiner, Pheffer, Urge New Rules For Cell Phone Bills

Representative Anthony Weiner, vice chair of the House Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee and a member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer have called on the FCC to combat cell phone “bill shock” by passing new rules that would require mobile phone companies to warn consumers via voice or text alert before they incur unexpected overage charges.

Recently, the FCC proposed new rules that would require cell phone companies to provide usage alerts to notify customers when they may unexpectedly incur higher billing fees by exceeding their monthly limit, or entering into roaming charges. Under the FCC’s proposed rules, customers would receive a message by voice or text message when they are approaching their monthly limits, and again when they have reached monthly limits that will result in overage charges. After a 60-day review period, the FCC commissioners hope to rule on the new proposals in December.

These unexpected fees – so-called “bill shock” – affect millions of wireless customers all across the country. An FCC survey conducted in April and May 2010 showed that 30 million Americans – one in six mobile users – have experienced bill shock at some point. According to complaints filed with the FCC, two thirds of the consumers complaining saw an increase of $100 or more on their wireless bill, but many were not alerted by their provider before they received the additional charges.

Notification Guidelines Proposed by the FCC include:

Over-the-Limit Alerts: The FCC’s proposed rules would require customer notification, such as voice or text alerts, when the customer approaches and reaches monthly limits that will result in overage charges.

Out-of-the-Country Alerts: The FCC’s proposed rules would require mobile providers to notify customers when they are about to incur international or other roaming charges that are not covered by their monthly plans, and if they will be charged at higher-than-normal rates.

Easy-to-Find Tools: The FCC’s proposed rules would require clear disclosure of any tools offered by mobile providers to set usage limits or review usage balances. The FCC is also asking for comment on whether all carriers should be required to offer the option of capping usage based on limits set by the consumer.

“Lack of coverage is a problem consumers struggle with daily, but unexpectedly high bills are the most unpleasant part of the cell phone age,” Weiner said. “If cell companies expect to get away with huge overages, they ought to at least be required to tell people when it’s happening so they can avoid it.”

“In recent years, as chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, I have received numerous complaints from consumers shocked to find that their monthly wireless bill turns out to be significantly higher than the amount estimated when they contracted for service,” Pheffer said. “I applaud the FCC for putting forth this commonsense approach to protecting consumers from ‘bill shock’ and join Congressman Weiner in calling on the Commission to finalize these important rules.”

Weiner expressed his support for the new rules and urged their passage in a letter to FCC commissioners.

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