CTIA, FCC team up to unveil plan to help fight bill shock

Alex Wagner
Editorial Director of News and Content from  Omaha, NE
| Published: October 17, 2011

Cell phone bill

Ever open up your cell phone bill and think, "I used how much data last month?!" If so, you're not alone. That's why the CTIA today announced an initiative that'll see it teaming up with major wireless operators to provide alerts to consumers that are about to exceed their monthly allotment of voice minutes, text messages, data, and international roaming. The plan is dubbed the "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines," and any carrier participating in it will be required to provide with notifications for at least two of the four aforementioned features by October 17, 2012 and all four by April 17, 2013.

This new plan is similar to the one that we saw the FCC detail around a year ago. An FCC official told Reuters that the agency intends to keep that initiative open for the time being and that, if carriers end up not following through with their plans with the CTIA, the FCC will still be able to move forward with its own rules that it can impose on the operators. It's kind of a bummer that it'll be a year before carriers are supposed to begin sending out alerts for just two services, but the FCC has explained that this new plan will require the providers to sink quite a bit of cash on upgrades to their billing systems to make the alerts possible. If these notifications come to fruition the way that the CTIA and FCC want them too, though, it sounds like the wait just might be worth it.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, Federal Communications Commission and Consumers Union Announce Free Alerts to Help Consumers Avoid Unexpected Overage Charges

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- CTIA-The Wireless Association® today announced new commitments by providers that represent more than 97 percent of wireless consumers in the U.S. to send free alerts to help consumers avoid unexpected overage charges. The joint announcement was made by CTIA President & CEO Steve Largent, Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Consumers Union's Communications Policy Counsel Parul Desai. The plan – called the "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" – will provide free alerts both before and after subscribers they reach monthly limits on voice, data and text. In addition, the plan includes a notification to inform consumers of international roaming charges when traveling abroad. Subscribers will be covered by this plan unless they opt-out.

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 October 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.

President Barack Obama said, "Far too many Americans know what it's like to open up their cell-phone bill and be shocked by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges. But we can put an end to that with a simple step: an alert warning consumers that they're about to hit their limit before fees and charges add up. Our phones shouldn't cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage. So I appreciate the mobile phone companies' willingness to work with my Administration and join us in our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers by making sure financial transactions are fair, honest and transparent."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "Last year, the FCC identified a growing problem known as bill shock and took important steps toward a solution, which led to today's victory for more than 97 percent of wireless consumers. These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills. Consistent with the FCC's ongoing efforts, these actions harness technology to empower consumers, and ensure consumers get a fair shake, not bill shock."

CTIA President & CEO Steve Largent said, "The 'Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines' are another step that CTIA and our members have taken to advance consumer interests while recognizing the U.S. wireless industry's incredible innovation and competition. We appreciate the interest and guidance of FCC Chairman Genachowski and Commissioners, the FCC's Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau and Consumers Union in highlighting the need to harness technology to help empower consumers. Today's initiative is a perfect example of how government agencies and industries they regulate can work together under President Obama's recent executive order directing federal agencies to consider whether new rules are necessary or would unnecessarily burden businesses and the economy."

Parul P. Desai, Policy Counsel for Consumers Union, said, "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 – and consumers deserve – to immediately receive free alerts to avoid overage charges. 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."

Via Engadget, Reuters