FCC calls for end to ‘bill shock’

The Federal Communications Commission will tomorrow propose new legislation requiring mobile phone companies to warn subscribers if their bills are about to go through the roof.

The proposals would force the operators to send voice or text alerts to customers as they near the monthly usage limits on their service plans, and again when the limits are reached. They would also be required to give details of the tools used to track usage.

Operators would also be required to make international roaming charges clear.The move has been under consideration for several months, following a flood of complaints from consumers. But now, says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, “It’s time to take action”.

A recent FCC survey found that as many as one in six mobile phone users – that’s 30 million Americans – had experienced ‘bill shock’. More than half of these were charged at least $50 more than they expected, but very few were alerted by their provider either before or after the arrival of the bill. Some were overcharged to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Earlier this month, the FCC announced that it was investigating Verizon for the overcharging of 15 million phone users over data services. Verizon is promising refunds to those affected. However, the FCC says it is continuing to investigate.

The FCC proposals are likely to be similar in principle to those recently put in place in the EU, with providers warning users when their bill reaches 80 percent of a pre-determined cap.