FCC Rolls Out New Website to Help Eliminate 'Bill Shock'
April 21, 2012

FCC Rolls Out New Website to Help Eliminate ‘Bill Shock’

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a new website designed to help wireless customers keep track of how close they are to their monthly usage limits.

According to Maggie Shader of Consumer Reports, the website "tracks how the major U.S. wireless carriers alert you when you're at risk of going over your usage limits for voice, data, and text."

Shader reports that an FCC survey says that 30 million Americans -- or one out of every six wireless users -- has experienced "bill shock," which she refers to as "the reaction you may have after finding an unexpected increase in your monthly wireless bill because you unknowingly went over your limit."

The FCC website tracks how AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and other American carriers are altering customers who may be at risk of exceeding their monthly voice, data, messaging or international roaming caps, said PCWorld's Ian Paul.

Under an agreement reached between the FCC and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), those four carriers and six others (Cellcom, Cellular One of Northeast Arizona, Clearwire, Illinois Valley Cellular, SouthernLINC Wireless, and U.S. Cellular) will provide customer alerts in at least two of the four categories by October 2012, and all four by April 2013.

"Under the new alert system, carriers will be responsible for contacting their customers twice: once when the customer is about to reach their monthly allotment of a particular category, and once again when they´ve actually reached it," MacObserver reporter Jim Tanous wrote Friday. "The FCC hopes this plan will help consumers avoid surprising, and occasionally financially devastating, wireless bills."

Tanous adds that customers who believe they have been improperly billed can file a complaint with the FCC, and MSNBC.com's Suzanne Choney said that the chart will be updated as least once per month.

"The fight over mobile bill shock has been ongoing since May 2010 when the FCC issued a request for public comment on unexpected high-priced monthly cell phone bills," Paul said. "By the fall, the FCC had a set of proposed rules for alerting customers to bill shock, culminating in the October 2011 agreement between the federal agency and the CTIA."

However, he added, "just because customers will get a heads up on pending overage charges, don't count on surprise mobile charges to disappear entirely. Carriers have a long history of surprising users with unanticipated costs such as activation, upgrade, and early cancellation fees."