Wireless struggles against FCC over possible 'bill shock' rules

The wireless industry pitted itself against a group of consumer-interest groups in comments over the FCC's investigation into "bill shock." Not surprisingly, wireless players generally argued against government oversight on the topic, while groups such as Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America and Free Press argued the FCC should impose regulations to protect wireless users against unexpected wireless charges.

"We believe that timely usage alerts, roaming notifications, a strong opt-in mechanism, customizable usage controls and ongoing disclosures would do much to address the problem of wireless bill shock," wrote Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and other groups in their filing to the FCC on the topic. "These regulations also should apply to prepaid, regional and rural wireless carriers to enable consumers to better control their communications budgets and avoid unnecessary service disruptions.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), in its filing, summed the wireless industry's position: "The appropriate model for meeting consumers' needs in today's highly competitive wireless market is to rely upon providers' own incentives to satisfy consumers, rather than prescriptive regulations that would limit the flexibility of providers to respond to consumers' evolving needs."

Others, including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), expanded on the argument. Specifically, AT&T outlined a number of arguments against possible FCC bill shock rules, including that AT&T already offers alerts on usage, that in some cases--such as when subscribers are roaming--real-time alerts are difficult to provide, and that the FCC may not have the authority to implement any rules. Sprint, for its part, noted the FCC faces a number of logistical challenges in implementing any bill shock rules, including specifying how exactly customers should be notified, when they should be alerted and how family plans and prepaid plans should be handled.

The FCC's investigation into bill shock, started in October, sought 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 FCC now will evaluate whether and how it will impose regulations on the topic.

For more:
- see this DSLreports article
- see this The Hill article
- see these FCC filings

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