July 13, 2011

FCC: Time To Crack Down On Unauthorized Phone Charges

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a proposal that will provide new rules to make it easier for consumers to spot unauthorized fees on their phone bills and challenge them.

The proposal seeks to crack down on the practice of "cramming," which is the illegal placement of unauthorized fees on a consumer's phone bill by either a third party or the phone company.

"It's a serious and continuing problem for wireline customers, and an emerging problem for wireless customers as well," CNET quotes FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski as saying.

Such charges are most always buried inside the phone bills and could appear under generic descriptions like minute-use fee, activation, member fee, voicemail or web hosting fees, which can be easily missed because the fees are often just a few dollars.

The proposed rules by the FCC would require landline phone companies to have third-party charges placed in a separate section of the bills, and notify consumers whether they offer the option to block third-party charges.

FCC will further consider whether to require landline companies to offer services to block third-party fees, and if they should be prohibited from charging for such a service.

In addition, the FCC would also require that both landline and wireless carriers put FCC contact information on their bills so that consumers are aware that they can file complaints about cramming practices to the agency.

As many as 15 to 20 million American consumers are estimated by the agency to have unauthorized fees on their monthly landline phone bills every year, with cramming becoming more and more of a problem for wireless customers, according to the FCC.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the FCC vote came just a day before a Senate hearing on the issue.

"This is a particularly timely item that brings much needed relief for the thousands of consumers who complain to the FCC each year about charges on their phone bills," says FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.


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