Cell Phone 'Bill Shock' Is History as New FCC Rules Take Effect

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The days of opening your cell phone bill and getting slapped with unexpected charges should be over.

As of Wednesday, cell phone companies must send customers four types of alerts when they are in danger of being charged beyond their normal plan price. The practice, which tacks on unauthorized or misleading charges on a bill, is known as "cramming" and has been around for decades with landline phone bills.

A 2011 agreement between the Federal Communications Commission and major cell phone companies included today's deadline that requires them to alert subscribers when they approach, reach and exceed limits on voice, data, text and international roaming charges. Carriers were required to provide two alerts by Oct. 17.

"This is very important consumer protection," says Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. "The bottom line is that cell phone charging plans are so complicated it's very easy to go over plans, especially with limited plans. This new requirement at the very least will save consumers thousands of dollars."


According to a 2010 FCC survey, 30 million Americans, about one in six mobile users, have experienced "bill shock," a sudden and unexpected increase in monthly bills not caused by a change in service plans. In 2010, the agency showcased a 66-year-old customer's plight of facing an $18,000 bill after a promotional, limitless data plan expired without warning as why more stringent notifications were needed.

The average wireless contract includes a flat fee for a set number of minutes and data each month and any usage that goes beyond the allotment is charged at a much higher rate. The surge in use of tablets has made consuming data and in turn, exceeding limits, much easier.

The FCC and Governmental Affairs Bureau held a workshop Wednesday on bill shock and cramming and according to attendee John Breyault, vice president of Public Policy for the National Consumers League, the FCC reported the number of complaints over mammoth fees has dropped significantly since October.

The NCL advocated for the new regulations to be implemented two years ago, and Breyault says the wireless companies reported being in full compliance of the alerts on Wednesday, which covers 97 percent of the carrier market.

In some cases when companies incur higher taxes or lose a revenue stream they are forced to increase prices to make up the difference, but Breyault says wireless caries did not view overcharges "as profit centers."

"The dissatisfaction of consumers felts over charges had the companies introduce tiered data plans ... there are still problems with these plans and whether or not they are adequate and will offer enough data at a reasonable price."

Amy Storey, spokeswoman for the wireless association CTIA, told FOX Business that the cost for the alerts is not known, but carriers would not pass them along to consumers.

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37 Comments

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evan_barthold

I have a free cellphone, secshun 8, food stamps, and health care. My messiah Barack gives it to me.

April 19 2013 at 3:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to evan_barthold's comment
evan_barthold

I'm lurning how to speek Kenyan so I can be like Barack.

April 19 2013 at 3:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to evan_barthold's comment
ELIZABETH

Are you going to hide your real birth certificate too and provide people with a fake one, like he did? Are you going to make tons of money and still make your half-brother live in a shack, like he is doing? Are you going to tell lots of lies, steal from Americans, and destroy America, like he has been doing? Thanks for the laugh.

April 19 2013 at 5:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
jorczak9

Thieves

April 18 2013 at 11:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
crazdndazed1

I have AT&T they always send out a alert when reaching data limit or anything else that may cost me more. $18,000 all I can say is DUDE

April 18 2013 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
charpist5

People should be able to keep track of their own promotional "free minutes" and other things. You can go on your phone at any time and see how many minutes you have left in your billing cycle. This is just another absurd way of making it so that the consumer doesn't have to think, or take any responsibility. And the result will be higher bills for everyone.

April 18 2013 at 8:39 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
Paul

"..but Breyault says wireless caries did not view overcharges..." Do they proofread much?

April 18 2013 at 3:30 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
cyrosie

So, in other words, nobody takes responsibility for anything anymore. Company or individuals. Yes, elderly need special attention, the rest???????????

April 18 2013 at 2:36 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Anastasia Beaverhaus

Verizon is my cell and internet provider. I don't watch movies or play games. I browse news sites, read articles and watch short news vids. I am still being charged for overages of my 10 G limit which usually runs out a good week or more before my cycle ends, leaving me with a bill 50 to 70 dollars more than my base package price. The alerts are sent, but the "cramming" hasn't stopped!

April 18 2013 at 2:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Anastasia Beaverhaus's comment
rawkstar4179

You do realize that when you receive an alert that you're about to go over your data limit that you need to *STOP* using data to keep from getting charged, right? Cause that's not "cramming", that's charging for services used.

Either limit your data usage (there are apps that keep track of how much you use ... and your phone can use a *LOT* more than you think when it's "idle"), use Wi-Fi whenever it's available, or switch to an unlimited plan.

April 18 2013 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sammy

Oh goody, save the comsumers thousands of dollars and that is more money for the government to collect in taxes.

April 18 2013 at 1:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sammy's comment
chantillytitle

How does the govt make money on money you DON'T pay to your cell carrier? That makes no sense...

April 18 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
adofilli

It'snot the phone company add ons that worry me it all the tax charge
american are the most taxed people on earth---
But we feed 1/2 of earth peole so there you have it

April 18 2013 at 1:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to adofilli's comment
setanta995

WHAT A JOKE..........."As of Wednesday, cell phone companies must send customers four types of alerts when they are in danger of being charged beyond their normal plan price. The practice, which tacks on unauthorized or misleading charges on a bill, is known as "cramming" and has been around for decades with landline phone bills."...............................take a GOOD LONG LOOK at your so-called NORMAL PRICE PLAN--
all of THIS sewerage should COST THE CONSUMERS 20bucks a month TOPS--ya buy the phone and BUY THE MINUTES--contracts ????? PENALTIES ?????? helloooooooooooo....any CONTRACTS with your landline ? power co ?water supplier ?
WHY WERE these THIEVES ALLOWED TO GET AWAY WITH THIS ?
same for cable/internet crap.

this is another joke PAID FOR by the taxpayers as usual,the SAME WAY WE are PAYING FOR THEEEE OBOMBA_phone.

April 18 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to setanta995's comment
rawkstar4179

Yeah, you don't have a contract with your water service ... because they're not selling you equipment for 1/4 of the cost of it. You really think that iPhone cost Sprint $99? Or that Galaxy S3? No, those phones are $600, $700 or more if bought outright. You don't like the contract? Buy the phone at full price and you can pay for your service in the months you want it.

April 18 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to rawkstar4179's comment
setanta995

sure............and why are these slave made phones 600bucks ? what's the mark up ?
so play the game THAT their merchandise COSTS THAT MUCH --so what .
the consumer should be ABLE TO RETURN their crap,pay a SMALL PENALTY and get out of their bs contracts.

April 19 2013 at 12:24 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down
ELIZABETH

The cell phone companies don't pay that much for the phones either. They are greedy little turds who are trying to become greedy big turds.

April 19 2013 at 5:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down