FCC to consider new wireless 'bill shock' rules

The FCC is going to vote on whether to examine new rules that would require wireless carriers to provide usage alerts and related information to subscribers as part of an effort to help wireless users avoid unexpectedly high wireless bills.

The commission will vote on the proposal at its next monthly meeting on Oct. 14. While consumer advocates have long complained that wireless bills are often confusing to customers and that users are often charged fees they did not know about when they purchased their monthly plan, the FCC has only recently started digging into the matter with an official probe.

In May, the FCC opened an inquiry into wireless "bill shock." The investigation, which aligned with a similar warning system imposed on European carriers by the European Union earlier this year, sought 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 also looked 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 wireless industry has long defended its practices. The CTIA, for example, has pointed out that each of the four Tier 1 carriers, as well as many smaller carriers, allow subscribers to monitor how many minutes, how much data and how many texts they have used by typing key phrases in their phone such as #BAL, #MIN, #DATA and more. The wireless industry's trade group also has pointed out that consumers also can call their carriers or check their usage via their carriers' websites.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is going to give a speech on the topic the day before the FCC meeting at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. He also will release the findings of an FCC report on the issue. The FCC meeting comes on the heels of Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) announcement that it will provide up to $90 million to refund 15 million customers who were mistakenly charged $1.99 for mobile data services they did not use.

Finally, the FCC will vote on whether to consider new rules to its Universal Service Fund. The commission will vote on whether to create a Mobility Fund to support private investment in 3G and 4G mobile services in areas where consumers currently lack mobile data access. 

For more:
- see this Washington Post article
- see this The Hill post

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