FCC and CTIA get set to hit back against bill shock

Bill shock? It's "a real consumer problem that needs to be fixed," according to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The department teamed up with the CTIA and the Consumers Union today to address the problem of unexpected mobile bill charges. The solution? Alerts about overages and international roaming sent to subscribers before they rack up bills they can't afford. It's a plan the organization talked up last year, thanks to the findings of a Consumer Task Force. The FCC hopes that a rollout of the plan will be completed in the next 12 months.

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CTIA-The Wireless Association, Federal Communications Commission and Consumers Union Announce Free Alerts to Help Consumers Avoid Unexpected Overage Charges

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- CTIA-The Wireless Association® today announced new commitments by providers that represent more than 97 percent of wireless consumers in the U.S. to send free alerts to help consumers avoid unexpected overage charges. The joint announcement was made by CTIA President & CEO Steve Largent, Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Consumers Union's Communications Policy Counsel Parul Desai. The plan – called the "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" – will provide free alerts both before and after subscribers they reach monthly limits on voice, data and text. In addition, the plan includes a notification to inform consumers of international roaming charges when traveling abroad. Subscribers will be covered by this plan unless they opt-out.

The CTIA "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" will become part of the broader CTIA "Consumer Code for Wireless Service" that provides disclosures and practices for wireless service to individual consumers. By October 17, 2012 participating carriers will provide customers with at least two out of the four notifications for data, voice, text and international roaming and all of the alerts by April 17, 2013.

President Barack Obama said, "Far too many Americans know what it's like to open up their cell-phone bill and be shocked by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges. But we can put an end to that with a simple step: an alert warning consumers that they're about to hit their limit before fees and charges add up. Our phones shouldn't cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage. So I appreciate the mobile phone companies' willingness to work with my Administration and join us in our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers by making sure financial transactions are fair, honest and transparent."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "Last year, the FCC identified a growing problem known as bill shock and took important steps toward a solution, which led to today's victory for more than 97 percent of wireless consumers. These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills. Consistent with the FCC's ongoing efforts, these actions harness technology to empower consumers, and ensure consumers get a fair shake, not bill shock."

CTIA President & CEO Steve Largent said, "The 'Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines' are another step that CTIA and our members have taken to advance consumer interests while recognizing the U.S. wireless industry's incredible innovation and competition. We appreciate the interest and guidance of FCC Chairman Genachowski and Commissioners, the FCC's Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau and Consumers Union in highlighting the need to harness technology to help empower consumers. Today's initiative is a perfect example of how government agencies and industries they regulate can work together under President Obama's recent executive order directing federal agencies to consider whether new rules are necessary or would unnecessarily burden businesses and the economy."

Parul P. Desai, Policy Counsel for Consumers Union, said, "Consumers have been telling us about 'bill shock' for a long time, and we've been pushing for reforms to crack down on the problem. We're encouraged that the industry is offering to provide free alerts to help customers avoid 'bill shock,' and we urge them to do it as quickly as possible. Some companies are already providing free alerts, while others are charging extra fees for them, and we think it's possible – and consumers deserve – to immediately receive free alerts to avoid overage charges. We're going to work closely with the FCC to make sure companies comply, and we're pleased the Commission is keeping this proceeding open to help ensure compliance. Ultimately, this is about helping people protect their pocketbooks, so we applaud the FCC and the industry for this effort to do right by consumers."