FCC addressing ‘bill shock’ phenomenon

Written by  //  December 18, 2010  //  Telecommunications/Technology  //  No comments

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Has it ever happened that you have opened your monthly mobile service bill, only to discover that you have exceeded your rate plan by tens or even hundreds of dollars?

If this scenario is familiar, you should know that thousands of other wireless customers have experienced similar “bill shock,” and the Federal Communications Commission has taken notice.

In a recently released document, the federal watchdog agency is proposing a new set of rules to curb “bill shock” — an unexpected increase in the monthly mobile bill —by requiring wireless service providers to provide usage alerts and related notification to help clients avoid unexpected charges on their bills.

In its notice for proposed rulemaking, the FCC established that companies should provide consumers with two types of alerts: over-the-limit and out-of-the-country. The first would warn consumers either through a voice or text message, when they are approaching and reaching their monthly limits. The second type of alert would require mobile providers to notify customers when they are about to incur international or other roaming charges that are not covered by their monthly plans.

Carriers would also have to provide “easy-to-find” tools so that users can access information about their usage limits or review usage balances.

The FCC says “bill shock” is a phenomenon experienced by one in six people, or 30 million consumers, on the U.S. mainland. On average, more than half of the consumers surveyed in April and May said they saw an increase of $50 or more in their bill.

The figure for Puerto Rico is not readily available. However, considering that wireless penetration on the island hovers at about 75 percent — with approximately 2.3 million users — a high occurrence of local “bill shock” would not be, well, shocking.

Mechanisms already in place
In Puerto Rico, where five carriers dispute the wireless market, customers are exposed to the same problem. For only one of those companies — OpenMobile, which offers an unlimited, flat rate, no contract service — “bill shock” is not an issue.

AT&T, Puerto Rico’s largest carrier with some 950,000 clients, has a number of mechanisms in place to help customers keep track of their bills.

“Ensuring that customers have the information and tools they need to understand their wireless usage and bills is a priority for AT&T,” said José Juan Dávila, general manager of AT&T de Puerto Rico. “That’s why we make detailed disclosures at the point-of-sale, including providing each customer with a sample bill, and allow our customers a 30-day no-questions-asked return option.”

“We look forward to working with the FCC to explore how we can better educate customers on the availability of these tools to ensure they are fully empowered in the use of their wireless devices and services,” he said.

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