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FCC site to monitor compliance with cellphone 'bill-shock' guidelines

October 17, 2011 | 10:02 am

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski

In unveiling voluntary guidelines for wireless companies to provide consumers with alerts that will allow them to avoid unexpectedly large cellphone bills, the Federal Communications Commission said it would launch a website to monitor industry compliance.

And if the industry fails to put the free alerts in place within the agreed-upon 18-month window, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski strongly suggested Monday that the agency would move ahead with regulations to end what is known as bill shock.

Last year, the FCC proposed rules mandating that consumers receive alerts when they are approaching and then go over their plans' monthly limits on voice, texting and data allowances, as well as for costly international roaming charges. But Genachowski said those regulations are on hold after AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and other leading wireless companies agreed to provide the alerts on their own.

"The carriers have committed to moving as expeditiously as possible to change their systems and implement these alerts," Genachowski said. "Now moving forward, the FCC will take a trust-but-verify approach."

Genachowski announced the new rules at the Brookings Institution in Washington along with Steve Largent, president of CTIA, the leading wireless industry trade group, and Parul Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union. Consumers automatically will receive the free alerts.

CTIA members must begin providing two of the four alerts — either voice, texting and data overages, along with notification of potential international roaming charges abroad — within 12 months and the rest within 18 months.

"We will ... be closely monitoring industry practices to make sure that all carriers provide this necessary information to consumers as promised, and if we see noncompliance we'll take action," Genachowski said. He didn't specific they action, but the threat of restarting the rule-making process was clear.

The FCC and Consumers Union will work together to launch the website early next year to keep consumers updated on what type of alerts wireless companies are offering and to track their compliance. Genachowski said he hoped the website would provide incentive for companies to act quickly.

"Let's see carriers competing to see who can provide the best alerts, information and notifications to consumers," he said.

Some companies, such as Verizon, already provide some of the alerts, and Largent said he anticipated companies would comply with the new guidelines ahead of schedule. But he noted there were technical issues with setting up the alerts.

He also said companies would not charge customers more to offset any decrease in income from lost overage charges.

"Our companies are biting the bullet and we're going to get this done," he said.

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— Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Bloomberg

 

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