FCC considers putting a stop to cellphone 'bill shock'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Federal Communications Commission is considering ways of warning wireless users when their bills start getting too high.

After dozens of high-profile cases in which consumers have been landed with bills of thousands of dollars, it says it wants to find ways of averting such 'bill shock'.

Many over-the-top bills arise through unexpected roaming charges, but there are plenty of other reasons too.

"My bill suddenly tripled in one month. . . When I got to looking it
over, I noticed that they had charged me for my mobile to mobile minutes," read one recent complaint to the FCC. "They had advertised free mobile to mobile."

"We are hearing from consumers about unpleasant surprises on their bills," said Joel Gurin, Chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

"We’ve gotten hundreds of complaints about bill shock. But this is an avoidable problem. Avoiding bill shock is good for consumers and ultimately good business for wireless carriers as well."

One method under consideration is to warn consumers via text message whehn their bill starts to approach a pre-set level.

The EU made a similar move in March, forcing operators to enforce a cut-off limit for charges and warn users when their bill reaches 80 percent of this.

Gurin said he was looking for public input on wherether there are any reasons why US wireless providers shouldn't be able to issue alerts in the same way as their European counterparts.