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No More $30K Wireless Bills? FCC To Require Alerts to Avoid ‘Bill Shock’

By News, Billing/OSS, FCC, Mobile & Wireless, Policy / VON XChange
October 20, 2010

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The FCC on Thursday will propose new rules to prevent so-called “bill shock," a move that could keep some consumers from seeing more $30,000 and $68,505 (and $18,000) wireless bills.

Yes, those amounts are real.

As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recounted in a speech on Wednesday, one woman, Kerfye Pierre, was stranded in Haiti during the 7.0 earthquake earlier this year and, during that time, racked up – unbeknownst to her – a $30,000 phone bill from T-Mobile USA. She didn’t know the T-Mobile courtesy plan, implemented in the wake of the quake, included only voice minutes. But Pierre relied on texts, e-mails and Facebook posts to stay in touch with family and friends because the voice network wasn’t reliable. Pierre managed to wrangle a $25,000 credit out of T-Mobile yet still owes the carrier the remainder. Genachowski also spoke of a $68,505 bill, to which the agency was alerted as part of its complaints process.

These extreme examples are just some of the hundreds of complaints the FCC has received this year. As a result, the agency – which already opened an inquiry on the matter in May – intends to start putting rules in place to control such problems. That means operators such as AT&T, Verizon and, of course, T-Mobile, will have to alert mobile users who are about to exceed their monthly limits.

"Something is clearly wrong with a system that makes it possible for consumers to run up big bills without knowing it," Genachowski said on Wednesday during a speech at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Genachowski wants to include three aspects: over-the-limit notifications; out-of-the-country alerts; and easy-to-find tools for monitoring wireless usage.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA—The Wireless Association, said in a prepared statement the organization agrees with the FCC that it’s important to “keep all customers happy."

But, he added, “we are concerned that prescriptive and costly rules that limit the creative offerings and competitive nature of the industry may threaten to offset these positive trends."

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