'Bill shock': Are voluntary warnings against extra wireless fees enough?
The wireless industry is being told by the FCC to curb 'bill shock' notifying consumers when they are about to be charged extra for going over monthly limits for voice, data, texting, and roaming.
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“It’s not regulation. There’s no accountability for the wireless industry,” Mr. Kelsey says. “When a consumer faces a $5,000 bill six months from now when the cameras aren’t watching, where do they go for relief based on this voluntary agreement?”Skip to next paragraph
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A key problem with the guidelines, says Kelsey, is that it doesn’t address “the systemic causes of the dynamics in the wireless industry that led to ‘bill shock’” and that is does not provide a “place for consumers to bring problems and seek relief” from hidden fees and unfair billing practices.
All four wireless carriers that control 90 percent of the market — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA — have agreed to follow the new guidelines. Also participating are US Cellular Corp. and Clearwire Corp.
The companies will immediately establish notifications of at least two of the four now required — voice, data, texting and international roaming. Notifications for all four will be required by April 17, 2013 and will apply to both wireless phone and tablet services.
Until Monday, subscribers were not notified of potential overuse unless they requested to be notified. The new guidelines provide all users of the alerts unless they opt out.
Jared Newman, a technology writer for PCWorld.com and Time, described the new requirements as a “win-win” for both the industry and the FCC. The agency, like many under the Obama administration, has been under fire from business groups for proposing to expand government regulation in a troubled economy.
They new policy, Mr. Newman says, puts the burden more on the consumer to monitor the use of their phone. He compares criticism with the overcharges to the overdraft fees imposed by banks on debit purchases and A.T.M. transactions.
“You still have to monitor yourself. They’re just giving you better tools to stay on top of that. If you ignore those rules, you’re still subject to ‘bill shock’,” he says.