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FCC Cracking Down On Extreme Cellphone Charges

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The Federal Communications Commission seems to think that wireless carriers sucker-punching their customers with $1000+ phone bills is an awful, stupid thing. Which is great, because it obviously is.


According to the FCC's Joel Gurin, via the NYT:

We're issuing a Public Notice to see if there's any reason that American carriers can't use similar automatic alerts to inform consumers when they are at risk of running up a high bill. This is an avoidable problem. Avoiding bill shock is good for consumers and ultimately good business for wireless carriers as well.


Anecdote time! In the middle of last year, I moved back to the US from the UK. I was between phones, and unsure about diving into a new contract, so I latched on a family plan with an unlocked smartphone for a few months. Since the smartphone wasn't compatible with our carrier's 3G bands, the rep suggested I opt for a cheaper data package, which was repeatedly quoted to me as "unlimited." I did. It worked fine for a few months. Then, out of nowhere, it was switched, or corrected, or something, to a 25MB capped plan, with excess data charged at around $10 per megabyte. So, how did the carrier handle it?

a.) Send me a letter warning of my service change
b.) Warn me as my data usage, which hadn't changed from the two months prior, ran up a dramatic bill
c.) Send a bill for over $1000 to my family's home, deflect our calls to the "Collections Department," and repeatedly claim that there was nothing they could do?

Guess. Guess. The issue was eventually resolved, but only after considerable effort and grief. The maddening part, beyond the egregious data rate, was that it would have been super easy to notify me that my bill had exceeded $100, or $200. What the company was implicitly saying by not notifying me that I had racked up over $1000 in data charges was that it was possible that I was making that choice consciously, and that for some reason I had avoided spending $30 on an unlimited smartphone data plan with the intention of spending forty times more on metered data overages. Dumb!

If I make a large purchase on my credit card after a few months of steady activity, I get a call on my cellphone; if I rack up a used car's worth of data charges on a cellphone bill that had previously averaged $40 a month, I don't get so much as a text. This makes very little sense.


Anyway, FCC: Follow through on this one. Please. [NYT]