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FCC Will Tackle Cell Phone 'Bill Shock' 477

Posted by samzenpus
from the light-in-a-sea-of-darkness dept.
MexiCali59 writes "The FCC is expected to launch a proceeding at its Thursday meeting that could force wireless providers to change their billing practices. The agency wants to prevent consumers from unknowingly racking up oversized bills on their phones when they go over their minutes, a situation the agency calls 'bill shock.' The agency released a survey earlier this year that showed one in six American consumers had been surprised by a cell phone bill. The FCC's proposed rules would require carriers to send text or voice alerts before and when minutes are used up. Notifications would also have to accompany out-of-country charges, and carriers would be required to clearly disclose any tools they offer to simplify billing."
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FCC Will Tackle Cell Phone 'Bill Shock'

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  • Root of the Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:42PM (#33885650) Homepage Journal
    Maybe I am missing something, but why doesn't the FCC go after the roots of some of these problems. For instance, can someone please explain to me why in the hell we are being charged for text messages in the first place? I mean, other than to screw us over and make a pretty penny?
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:43PM (#33885666)
    Have all cell phone bills max out at $500.00 PERIOD.

    If you are dumb enough to go to that limit, so be it, but at least you KNOW what your maximum bill will be.

    Then, you can text with reckless abandon!
  • just say no (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Surt (22457) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:46PM (#33885708) Homepage Journal

    I've had to do this with each of verizon, at&t, and tmobile on one occasion.

    Just say you don't want to pay. Say it in person, imply you are going to jump carriers if they do not fix it. Go by during lunch or on a weekend when their store is busiest, and complain loudly enough that the other customers are going to watch them deal with your issue.

    They will fix it for you, and they will be very polite and apologetic about the situation to avoid losing potential customers. I have had friends use this technique as well, and so far our attempts have a 100% success rate.

  • Simplified billing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe&jwsmythe,com> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:50PM (#33885770) Homepage Journal

        I found one of the better solutions to "Bill Shock". Prepaid phone with unlimited minutes. My bill is my bill, and I can plan for that amount with no confusion.

        I was screwed twice by cell phone companies who were out to screw their customers. The first time, I was overcharged $300/mo for "roaming" in a city 100 miles away, even though I never left my city limits during the entire period in question.

        The second time, several years later, my phone didn't even work at a house I moved to. I left it sitting on my desk until the battery died, but I still paid the bill normally. Then I started getting overcharged $300 for "roaming". They couldn't demonstrate any calls, or even show any minutes used. I asked them to clarify how I could be roaming if the phone was dead. They couldn't give me any answer but "you need to pay..." But when the phone was working, they were kind enough to nail me with all kinds of fees for International use. Hop over the border, or even be close to it, and they can hit you for it.

        Nope, I'm done with that nonsense. No more calls if I'm a day late (and every day after that for months). If my phone gets shut off, it's because I didn't pay the normal fixed amount, and they leave me alone. I *still* get calls 5 years later about a phone I bought as a gift for someone, and my name isn't suppose to even be on the account. No, I'm not paying their phone bill, because it's not my account dammit.

  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:58PM (#33885936)

    because if they were free then spammers would come in and clog up the data channel with constant texting.

    Spammers can still clog up the data channel with constant texts for free if they want to now. It's called the SMS gateway [wikipedia.org] which allows one to send SMS texts through email.

    since you have to pay for incomming texts it's illegal to spam you via cell

    Because spammers really care what the law says, right?

  • by RapmasterT (787426) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:02PM (#33886012)
    How about you do something about the god damned HIDDEN CHARGES.

    I'm not talking about overage minutes or text...those are clearly stated in my agreement and I'm on the hook for overages. I'm a big boy and I can pay the bills I agree to.

    But SOMEHOW my cell phone bills seem to include over 20% in taxes, fees, surcharges...all that I never agreed to, was never informed of, and are not optional. How about that? How about when advertising service plan rates the cell companies be required to also report how much the government is going to tack on top of it too.
  • by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazzt@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:04PM (#33886040) Homepage
    I still get "spam" from AT&T in my SMS inbox. I don't have to pay for it but it's still spam. And why should I be paying for it anyway? Charging for OUTGOING messages always made more sense for phone calls and it makes more sense for texts too.
  • Back in the day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:05PM (#33886046) Journal

    this happened to me on land lines. Being a kid, I knew that I needed to use an area code to call long distance. So I figured that any number that was in my area code was not long distance. So I set about dialing every BBS in my area code. Oops.

    Turns out, and I still don't understand why, that quite a few of the numbers I called were not considered local. How was I supposed to know? My dad ended up getting a bill for a couple hundred dollars.

    Personally, I don't think the phone company should be allowed to charge anything without an explicit declaration of price and agreement on the part of the customer. Even on POTS. When I dial a number, *any number*, I want to be quoted a rate and given a chance to decline.

    These days I just have all long distance calls from my home phone blocked. If I need to make a long distance call, I have a phone card which has a fixed rate per minute, and it tells me how many much time I have left for a call. It's simple math to get back to the per minute rate. Why can't cell phones be as convenient?

  • Re:All you can eat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Garble Snarky (715674) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:07PM (#33886076)
    Clearly the carriers have not been motivated by the market forces to offer this kind of service so far - how would the government change that by continuing to "let the market work the way it should" ???
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:08PM (#33886094) Homepage

    Actually, many carriers offer that option - for a fee.

    Having to pay to NOT receive a service that you DON'T want to receive should be banned.

    When I sign up for phone service, I should be able to set a limit on my monthly bill. If I consume services adding up to that much, they should block my service/etc, but I should not be able to accrue additional liability unless I call the provider and opt-in, setting a higher allowance for that month.

  • by Khisanth Magus (1090101) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:09PM (#33886114)
    The main times I've had "bill shock" is times when I had my phone in my pocket, it got unlocked somehow or another, and the button to open up the web browser got accidentally pressed. Then I start racking up data charges without knowing.
  • Re:Great Simple Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by omnichad (1198475) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:10PM (#33886134) Homepage

    It's a great idea, but not easy in practice. When you're on a partner tower (say a Verizon customer roaming on a Sprint tower), Verizon may not get the bill from Sprint on those minutes until weeks later. Then, all those minutes suddenly post to your account. If they get to the point where this is all done in real time, then it would be a lot useful. But having 200 minutes used, and suddenly jumping to 400 in the course of an hour without even making a call is very possible.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:19PM (#33886286)

    I worked for a company that sold GPS devices that reported their location via cellular. One customer needed to transmit GPS coordinates (ie a 150-byte packet at most) every minute, so he got a really cheap plan from Verizon, a few megabytes for 30$/month.

    During setup, he misconfigured it to report every second, so his first month he ended up using something like 500MB. Instead of cutting him off once he was far beyond his limit, or moving him to a more reasonable plan automatically, Verizon actually sent him a 30 000 dollar bill, for half a gig! They wouldn't budge at all, it took him getting a lawyer and threatening to sue for them to let him off this one time.

    The fact that this sort of thing can happen is proof that the FCC is completely powerless or unwilling to stop consumer abuse.

  • Re:Or... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mttlg (174815) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:39PM (#33886564) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes this excessive billing happens retroactively, making it impossible for the customer to keep track of charges or receive notification of reaching limits. I recently added a global data plan (at a rate of about $1 per day over my regular data plan) for an overseas trip and was shocked to see a $130 data charge that didn't show up until a couple of weeks after the trip. I had told the carrier beforehand the days on which I would need the global data plan (with an extra day on either end of the trip just in case), thinking that they would set it up to be active on those days. In reality, they just left the service on until well after I had returned, then retroactively changed my plan back to my regular data plan for the days I hadn't requested it. And a couple that I had. In order to save me a couple of dollars, they stuck me with $130 in data charges. Luckily, they fixed it without much trouble, but it shouldn't have gotten this far. These plan changes had to be made over the phone with no written confirmation of what had been requested and what was to be provided and no notification of the retroactive changes was given until it showed up on my bill (which was a tangled mess of charges and refunds). But hey, they might have lucked out and gotten an extra $130 for their incompetence.
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:40PM (#33886566) Journal

    Have you noticed that most of the cheaper non-smart phones have a prominent button for "marketplace" or some such WAP service? Just hitting it accidentally can double your bill if you don't have a data plan. (And if you have a cheap flipper, you probably don't have or need a data plan.) This button is usually the only one that can not be remapped or disabled. It is essentially a "PROFIT" button for the carrier.

    We bought the unlimited data plan and unlimited texting plan for our daughter's first cell phone on the theory that just one mistake could be many times more expensive than the cost of the plan. We went a long time without surprises, and then one day I got a bill that was an appreciable fraction of a grand. Turns out the carrier had some kind of "ask a question via text" feature, daughter had discovered it, and was using it to help with homework. Had I known, I would have researched it, found how much it cost per question, and shut it down. But the billing cycle is such that you don't know you're in trouble until you're in LOTS of trouble, and I'm certain this is intentional also.

    I argued with the carrier for a very long time, going up the chain of command (or just sideways -- you never can tell) and eventually found someone who cared that I was going to take four phones to a competing carrier unless they addressed this. They offered a 50% reduction in the bill and I gritted my teeth and took it. And also made very sure that I was aware of all such "services" and had them all locked out.

    The great rank and file -- whom I like to call "Fred and Ethyl", would not know about this stuff until they're nailed by it. Even people who are being careful -- my case -- can still get nailed by "services" of which they are unaware. This goes way beyond disallowing Google Maps on a smartphone so you can charge someone ten bucks a month for the carrier's app. This is like buying a car with Onstar built in and then finding out that it's free to call a red and white ambulance but there's a $10,000 charge if the ambulance is blue and white. It's an arbitrary "gotcha" designed to generate windfalls for the carrier.

    To a certain extent, they all do it, but some are worse than others.

  • Re:Great Simple Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tanktalus (794810) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:53PM (#33886728) Journal

    There is another great simple idea hidden here: get them done in real time. All carriers will have the incentive to get this done when they realise that they won't be able to back-charge you for minutes prior to the texted warning. If that's not an incentive to get this done in real time *now*, nothing is.

    Information in consumer's hands is not only good for consumers, but good for ethical businesses, too. If the carriers give any excuse(*) for doing this, they're really just telling us how they want to continue to make money unethically.

    (*) saying that they need a couple of months (say 2-6) to implement this real-time conversions is fine. Continued delays is just lying, and thus unethical.

  • Re:Great Simple Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @07:09PM (#33888780) Journal

    Those extra things on your bill...

    THEY'RE NOT TAXES.

    Call your phone company and have them explain those fees line by line.

    They'll generally call them "regulatory compliance fees." When you go to a restaurant, do you get charged extra for the hand sanitizer in the bathrooms (it's a regulation they must comply with, after all)

    If they can bill your for their time complying with ordinary regulations on top of the agreed upon price, I wonder if you can bill them for your time spent budgeting, recording, and paying their bill....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:06PM (#33889502)

    I am willing to pay this--but I also desire the ability to know up front. I don't think the end user should have to carry their carrier's Terms and Conditions and rate sheet in their back pocket.

    As a Swede often crossing nearby borders I don't think I have ever been denied information of current fees. A common courtesy of the carriers here is that when I roam I get a text message informing me of who's network I'm on, how much they charge me per minute, SMS, MMS and MB.

    This, to me, seems like the optimal solution for informing customers of the conditions of roaming.

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