The FCC and CTIA released guidelines to help educate and notify consumers about impending wireless data and roaming charges.
The Federal Communications
Commission, the wireless communications association CTIA and Consumers Union announced
a set of industry changes meant to reduce "bill shock," or the unexpected charges
many consumers incur by passing the limits on their data plans or making
expensive roaming calls while overseas.
The regulations require
network operators to send voice or text alerts to the user as they approach and
reach the data limits that would result in charges, send alerts when they are
about to incur international roaming charges, and disclose tools available to
let consumers monitor their own data usage and roaming costs.
The alerts will be free and
automatic, without the need for a consumer opt-in, and the program is expected
to be up and running within 12 months. "The goal was to change practices to
benefit the consumer," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "Consistent with
the FCC's ongoing efforts, these actions harness technology to empower
consumers, and ensure consumers get a fair shake, not bill shock."
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 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.
More than 60 percent of
wireless customers with traditional cellular plans would support a government
rule to avoid cell phone "bill shock," according to a 2011 poll released by
Consumers Union. Such a rule would require mobile network providers to notify
customers when they are about to exceed their plans' allowance so they can avoid
overage charges. The poll also found wide support-57 percent-for a government
rule requiring that wireless providers give their customers the option to have
features disabled when they are in danger of exceeding their plans' allowance.
The survey also found that one in five respondents had received an unexpected
charge on a cell phone bill during the past year, with 38 percent reporting
being hit with a charge of $30 or more.
"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 to-and
consumers deserve to-immediately receive free alerts to avoid overage charges,"
said Parul Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "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."
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.