1 in 6 cell phone customers has 'bill shock'
The FCC is examining whether to adopt measures that would give wireless customers advance notice that they are exceeding limits.
When consumers sign up for a wireless plan, they expect to pay the same amount each month. But sometimes other fees kick in when they access additional services or exceed preset limits, and those fees can come as a shock.
According to a recent Federal Communications Commission survey on "the consumer mobile experience," one in six mobile telecommunications subscribers, or 30 million Americans, encountered unexpected charges and fees in their bills, commonly known as cell phone "bill shock."
A big shock may come from international roaming charges that can be hundreds of dollars. Kristina, of Alexandria, Va., recently took a cruise to the Bahamas and, as a precaution, called her carrier, T-Mobile, to find out about charges. She said she was told that voice calls would carry a $2.99-per-minute roaming charge and data would be billed at $15 per kilobyte.
"So, I decided I would not use my phone for Internet at all," Kristina told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I made one call that was about 11 minutes and two other calls that were about four minutes. No Internet, no texting, no checking voicemails. My bill was $200 higher than normal."
The reason? Kristina did not turn off her cell phone. Though she wasn't "using" it, it was still receiving data.
She said a T-Mobile rep explained that she paid a roaming charge anytime someone sent her an e-mail or left a voicemail message. Had her carrier given Kristina a heads up that she was racking up changes, she might have been able to limit them.
According to the FCC survey:
- Of the group of wireless consumers who experienced bill shock, 88% said their wireless provider did not contact them after their bill increased.
- 84% stated that the wireless provider did not contact them when they were about to exceed their allowed minutes, text allotment or data-usage limits.
- More than a third of consumers experiencing bill shock faced a bill increase of at least $50.
- 23% of cell phone users experiencing bill shock faced a bill increase that was more than $100.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has asked the FCC to require greater transparency and real-time notification to alert wireless phone users of their voice and data usage before they're charged excessive fees outside of preset use plans.
"Rapidly changing technology, easy access to expensive wireless data services, and complex billing practices regularly leave wireless phone customers with unexpected and extremely high bills," Coakley said in comments to the FCC. "Simple protections such as usage alerts and preset cutoff mechanisms that have long been standards in other industries should be adopted to better protect wireless customers from unexpected charges."
The FCC is examining whether it should adopt measures that would give wireless customers advance notice that they are exceeding limits and could be facing much higher bills for calling, text or data usage. The protections are already in place for wireless phone customers in the European Union.
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