FCC opening inquiry into wireless 'bill shock'

The FCC said it will explore whether wireless carriers should be required to warn subscribers when they are incurring roaming charges or overage fees. The inquiry is part of the FCC's broader truth-in-billing effort, which it launched in August.

The inquiry, which aligns with a similar warning system recently imposed on European carriers by the European Union, will seek public comment on a variety of issues, including the extent to which consumers can currently monitor their wireless usage and know when they reach their allotment of voice minutes, text messages or data usage. The inquiry will also look into which carriers provide usage alerts and how much they cost; whether usage controls should be implemented on voice services, data services or both; and how people with disabilities can access their billing information.

The CTIA said it will work with the FCC on the inquiry. "Each of the four large carriers, as well as many smaller carriers, provide consumers the ability to monitor how many minutes, how much data and how many texts they have used for free by simply typing key phrases in their phone such as *MIN, *BAL, # MIN, #DATA, *2 and more," CTIA Presdient Steve Largent said in a statement. "Consumers can also call their carriers or check their usage via their carriers' websites.  Even though the 'hundreds of complaints' that the Public Notice references is less than four ten-thousandths of a percentage of the industry's total subscribers, the industry strives to serve and provide all of our 285 million customers with the necessary tools to have a positive experience."

"Bill shock"--wherein customers receive enormous bills for charges they did not realize they were incurring--was recently highlighted by a Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) customer who is trying to fight a $18,000 wireless bill. Verizon, for its part, said it offers numerous tools for customers to monitor their usage and manage their plans.

For more:
- see this FCC public notice
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article (sub. req.)
- see this CNet article

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