FCC, Consumers Union: Wireless Providers to Send Alerts on Plan Overages

Mobile phone service providers have agreed to alert consumers when they are nearing their plan limits for data, text or calling minutes, and send additional text warnings when those limits have been reached.
Consumer will now know when overage charges have been triggered, avoiding what the Federal Communications Commission has labeled as “bill shock.”
The agreement — announced yesterday by the FCC; Consumers Union, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group; and the group representing the mobile phone industry, known as CTIA-The Wireless Association — will result in “usage notification guidelines.” Subscribers will be covered by this plan unless they opt-out.
By Oct. 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,” according to a joint statement.
All the major wireless providers are expected to take part in the new “commitments.”  The service alerts are suppose to be free, but Consumers Union and other advocates will help the FCC monitor the mobile service providers for compliance.
For nearly two years, the FCC has been applying pressure for the industry to address “bill shock,” particularly as data usage has soared among smartphone users and some providers have cut back or ended unlimited plans for Web-browsing, emailing and other data usage.
“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,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills.”
In January of this year, ConsumerReports .org reported that one in five survey respondents said they had received an unexpectedly high mobile phone bill in the previous year, often for exceeding the plan’s voice, text, or data limits. Half of them were hit for at least $50, and one in five for more than $100, ConsumerReports said.
Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said some providers already offer free alerts, while others are charging extra fees for such warnings.
“We think it’s possible – and consumers deserve – to immediately receive free alerts to avoid overage charges,” Desai said. “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.”

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