The FCC is expected to report a proposal at its Thursday meeting dealing with the nagging problem of "bill shock," the often surprising bills that are sent to many Americans by mobile phone carriers.
The issue has been building up for months, even years, as reports of consumers surprised by bills over $10,000 have surfaced. The FCC launched a consumer help center earlier this summer aimed at assisting consumers figure out their often-confusing bills. An earlier FCC survey reported that 30 million Americans said they have experienced an unexpected increase in a monthly bill not caused by a change in a service plan.
The issue also gained more credence in recent days after Verizon agreed to refund customers some $50 million for improperly charging them for data services. One longtime critic of bill overcharges, FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn, has indicated she may challenge Verizon on the issue.
"As I pointed out in December of last year," Clyburn said in a recent statement, "the company's initial response to public reports of the phantom fees was that it does not charge consumers for accidental launching of the web browser…The fifteen million overcharged consumers, identified by Verizon Wireless, deserve more than refunds." Clyburn expressed confidence that the mobile phone carriers will cooperate with the FCC.
The FCC hasn't tipped its hand on the contents of the proposal, but it has studied the European Union regulations that call for alert messages to be sent to mobile phone subscribers when their service usage hits predetermined levels of usage. When mobile phone subscribers in Europe are in danger of incurring high fees for voice, text or data, they are alerted, usually via a text message.
A variation of the European Union regulations has been included in "bill shock" legislation proposed by Senator Tom Udall. The New Mexico Democrat's legislation would require carriers to alert customers by text or email when they have used 80% of their monthly calling or data allotment. Industry trade association CTIA opposes the Udall legislation because it could "cause customer confusion and frustration."
The practice known as "cramming" -- the inclusion of mystery charges in customer bills -- has already been outlawed by the FCC.