A deal between the government and the wireless industry, to be announced today, will give users of cellphones and other mobile devices warnings before they exceed monthly talk, text or data limits.
At least two of the alerts, which also include one for international roaming charges, will be implemented within 12 months and all within 18 months, under the member guidelines adopted by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and prompted by the Federal Communications Commission. CTIA members cover 97 percent of U.S. wireless customers.
Consumer complaints led the FCC last October to consider mandating such alerts via voice or text when subscribers near or pass limits. The FCC last year studied "bill shock" and found that one in six mobile users had seen unexpected jumps in monthly wireless bills, 23 percent of them by $100 or more. Carriers moved to work with the FCC on voluntary guidelines before it proposed rules.
The agreement is a "victory for more than 300 million wireless consumers," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills."
The deal addresses consumer interests without the weight on the industry of new regulations, said CTIA President Steve Largent.
And it got the blessing of President Barack Obama, who said in a statement: "Far too many Americans know what it's like to open up their cellphone 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."
Users will get the alerts before and after they exceed limits or use international roaming.
The voluntary process may have been faster. Within the typical mandatory rule-making process, the FCC gives industries up to two years to comply with new regulations.
While the alerts might provide consumers with more protection, Gartner analyst Phillip Redman said "there's no guarantee that would eliminate overage charges. . . . My feeling is that people will continue to use their service even when they run up against limits. What's needed is clearer pricing and cellular companies working harder to better align users with the proper plan."
Consumers can opt out if they don't want the alerts.
To monitor compliance, the FCC is partnering with Consumers Union.
Their websites, fcc.gov and consumersunion.org, will track and post which carriers have adopted which rules.
"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," said Consumers Union policy counsel Parul Desai.
by Mike Snider USA Today Oct. 17, 2011 12:00 AM
Deal will give mobile users limit alerts
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