FCC: 1 in 6 customers face cell phone ‘bill shock’

The Federal Communications Commission said one in six U.S. cell phone customers have been hit with unexpected fees on their monthly bills. Yes, friends, this is the dreaded “bill shock” we’ve all heard so much about.

The governmental agency conducted a survey which found that nearly 30 million Americans have been hit with a sudden increase in their monthly bills that doesn’t correlate with a change in service plan. Of those hit with bill shock, 84% said their carrier didn’t contact them when they were about to hit their limit for voice, data or text messages, and 88% said the mobile operator didn’t contact them after the sudden increase. Additionally, the survey found there is mass confusion about early-termination fees, as nearly half didn’t know how much they would have to pay to exit a service contract.

“The wireless industry has achieved remarkable innovation – an mobile is increasingly essential to the daily lives of Americans,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in a prepared statement. “But there is still more that can be done to help customers navigate what is sometimes a confusing marketplace. A simple and easy to understand mobile purchase and billing process will empower consumers to avoid bill shock and other unexpected fees.”

The FCC is trying to address these issues and it may implement a system that exists in the European Union: carriers have to send you a free text when you’re nearing your allotment of voice, data, or text, and the consumer will be able to set a fixed amount that they cannot exceed. The governmental agency is also making moves to make additional fees more transparent, which is part of a larger effort to make the wireless industry more consumer friendly.

The carriers aren’t exactly loving these ideas and some people would argue that government doesn’t need to butt its nose in because responsible adults should be able to manage and honor their service contracts. I’d tend to agree with the latter sentiment but only if there are proper measurement tools in place and if the billing and consequences of going over your allotment is clearly labeled.

How say you, IntoMobile readers?

[Via FCC (Word document)]

  • Jeff Schaffer

    “I tend to agree” means you are a jack ass. It costs nothing for the providers to send an email. NOTHING. And they don’t want to because it eats into their free money.

    There is just an enormous amount of monitoring these days to avoid getting fee’d to death at every turn. Banks. Recurring monthly credit card fees you didn’t know you were paying. And for you to say that the providers shouldn’t have to help their customers control their monthly costs makes you an idiot.

    • marinperez

      Read what I said: we don't need governmental intervention as long as the proper monitoring tools are in place because responsible adults should be able to handle it. I think the FCC's actions are just public prodding, which is a good thing.

      • SimonCa11

        But the proper monitoring tools AREN'T in place and it won't happen until the carriers are forced into it. The carriers are making heaps of money on 'overages', out of bundle usage, roaming and ETFs.
        Here's an example: I got an AT&T phone on a family plan for one of my kids with no data bundle. Now when we got the phone I specified that I did NOT want data access on it. But the phone had this annoying shortcut button to launch the browser. My kid obviously got quite interested some point and browsed quite a bit – enough to rack up a bill of about $1,500! So I phoned CS and the rep tells me that they can remove the charges but only if we sign up for 6 months of data plan! WTF! It's extortion and they're not even subtle about it. So yeah, even though I am not pro government interference, in this case I would say it is necessary. How many people are they ripping off like this?

        Well anyway, one ETF (argh!) later and my kid is now on a (NET10) prepaid plan. I will very likely switch too within a few months.

  • allhew70

    This is exactly the reason why so many people are now switching to prepaid. The contract providers gave fooled all of the people some of the time, but they cant fool all of the people all of the time. It was exactly after one such bill shock that I switched to prepaid. I got a Net 10 phone which costs 10 c a minute for calls. That is all you need to know . There are no other charges.
    I will never go back to a contract.

  • ALEX

    ok, 10c a minute is ridiculous, you're just not very smart…

    I do not agree that the government needs to butt in! The only government that should come in contact with issues like this, is when someone takes these companies to court for a class action lawsuit. I've been hit many times with these UNEXPECTED bills from SPRINT (they were rude, indifferent, and ghetto – and my bill changed every month without my consent for 6 consecutive months, this is with me each month spending hours on the phone with customer service fixing it), things were added to the bill that I had not authorized, you name it…

    What I think is fair, is for the government to stay out of it, and allow us to take companies like this to court easier, and make them learn their lesson by fining them a hefty amount. This way they will definitely learn the hard way to put everything out in the open and to make sure they don't rip us off! BECAUSE THE ONLY WAY PEOPLE LEARN, IS WHEN THEY ARE HIT WHERE IT HURTS, THE WALLET…

    AND NOBODY NEEDS A BIGGER GOVERNMENT!!! YOU GUYS DON'T UNDERSTAND DO YOU, EVENTUALLY THEY WILL GET BORED AND WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO EXCEPT PATROL YOU, AND TELL YOU WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK, AND WHEN!!! OH YEA, AND NOW WITH THIS OBAMA BULL—-, THEY WILL ALSO TELL YOU WHEN IT'S YOUR TIME TO JUST DIE!!!!!

  • Alex Again…

    Oh yea, by the way, why do you think you're getting seatbelt tickets? You think it's really for your safety? Right…. I believe (strongly), that if you aren't smart enough, or stubborn enough to put on your seatbelt, then it's your choice, kind of like eating something you're allergic to, you know you shouldn't, and you don't… But if you choose to, is the next big thing to give us tickets for eating foods you are allergic to? Because that'll save a life or two as well you know?!!! Just an example… These guys are going to try and find ANY possible way they can to get more and more money out of you, because you are the working man, and you're the only one supporting this darn economy!!! Government this and government that… The american dream that everyone dreams of is not working at all and just enjoy life, and to do that, you have to find someone stupid enough to work double for you and them… And if you don't agree with this statement and you work for a living, you are that person!!!! hahahahaha!!! Good Luck!! Did you know that the AVERAGE person that is on welfare gets enough freebies to be an equivalent of a $ 60,000/ year job? Why the heck am I working for a living making half that busting my butt 50 hours a week killing myself…. And people want to give them more? Healthcare? Are you nuts????
    WAKE UP PEOPLE, I'M ORIGINALLY FROM A SOCIALIST COUNTRY, AND I KNOW SOCIALISM DOESN'T WORK… SO OBAMA, THANKS FOR RUINING THIS COUNTRY!!!
    oh yea, if you think we won't be able to do anything to stop it in time, I think there are enough good people out there to decrease your majority and kick you out… at least I hope…
    Oh yea, I was just venting, we were talking about Cell Phone providers right? Well then I have to ask, does Obama own any of them??? Because that would make sense wouldn't it???

  • Rosie

    Hey.. this is a discussion not a war of words! It would be very nice to be warned about overages but if one went prepaid the problem wouldn't arise!! I agree with Alhew Net10 is a really easy plan to follow as some of the contracts are very confusing and you can,t get confused by 10c per minute of 5c per text. I'm surprised the carriers haven't implemented an early warning system before now as they seem to have to write off some huge bills which they wouldn't have to if you had been warned!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SHNOFFSU7UNOHVHI2Y7BISO2SE Karen Davidson

    Haha word Rosie. Companies just need to change their models and keep things transparent. You’ve got companies like Net10 that give you exactly what you’re paying for and there are no such things as “bill shocks”. It’s really that simple.. just tell people exactly what they’re going to get and give them chances to understand how much they’re using. That’s what prepaid phones like Net10 do. They eliminate these bills and there’s no more shock to be had.

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