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FCC, Carriers Agree to 'Bill Shock' Guidelines
Though Government Still Not Checking Meter Accuracy
by Karl Bode 12:39PM Monday Oct 17 2011 Tipped by Uncle Paul See Profile
For years we've seen story after story about massive consumer wireless bills -- usually due to heavy data consumption. The problem is a combination of consumers that don't read their contract details or understand rates, and carriers that intentionally make bills confusing -- and fail to adequately warn consumers before their bill goes nuclear.

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Last October the FCC began the process of fielding input on precisely what kind of rules they should craft. Today the FCC and the wireless industry unveiled a voluntary set of "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" aimed at preventing such "bill shock."

According to the FCC announcement, phone and tablet customers must be given clear notifications that they're approaching their plan's SMS, data and voice limits. The notifications must be free, and consumers must have the easy ability to opt out of the notifications. The FCC is working with the Consumers Union on a website that will track implementation of the alert system.

"Last year, the FCC identified a growing problem known as bill shock and took important steps toward a solution, which led to today's victory for more than 97 percent of wireless consumers," FCC boss Julius Genachowski said in a prepared statement. "These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills. Consistent with the FCC's ongoing efforts, these actions harness technology to empower consumers, and ensure consumers get a fair shake, not bill shock."

To be clear, most of these "new" rules involve carriers agreeing to things they've already been doing for some time. The industry's voluntary cooperation, and the industry's denial that the FCC has any real authority over them, also means you probably won't see real penalties for carriers who don't comply. The guidelines are a far cry from recent EU rules that give much more power to the consumer, allowing users to set a monthly spending cap and auto-suspend service before bills can get out of hand.

Still, some sort of framework on this front is better than nothing. With the agency already struggling to defend their network neutrality efforts, the FCC was already on tenuous political footing. As such, they used the threat of regulation to at least get something out of wireless carriers. After being hammered with bad press for years -- the wireless industry apparently realized they had a PR problem here that needed addressing. Accordingly, these guidelines are a largely PR-centric response.

"The 'Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines' are another step that CTIA and our members have taken to advance consumer interests while recognizing the U.S. wireless industry’s incredible innovation and competition," insists Steve Largent, head of the wireless industry's CTIA trade association.

With so many landline broadband providers also now embracing the "cap and overage" model, we're curious if similar rules for traditional broadband services will be implemented down the line. Genachowski is on the record giving his full support for such pricing models, but as it stands -- there's absolutely no consumer protections in place to ensure meters -- be they on wireless or wireline networks -- are accurate in the first place.

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ctgreybeard
Old dogs can learn new tricks
Premium
join:2001-11-13
Bethel, CT
Reviews:
·Comcast

AT&T has some notifications now

Last month we went to Canada and I got several texts reminding me that international data roaming was expensive. I had already turned that option off on the iPhones and we didn't incur any extra charges.
--
Old dogs can learn new tricks!
kevinds

join:2003-05-01
Calgary, AB
kudos:2

Re: AT&T has some notifications now

That message would have been from the carrier you connected to.

When I get close to the US bordetr, I just get a text, welcome to AT&T text message, when I connect.

Some of the carriers up here send out a message like that, to tell people to be careful.
--
Yes, I am not employed and looking for IT work. Have passport, will travel.

superfly12

@windstream.net

alerts

that's all great....but they need to lower prices on internation/roaming.....i don't really think the international carriers are charging our carriers that much,our carriers just use it for an excuse to over charge us.....thats IMO

djdanska
Rudie32
Premium,MVM
join:2001-04-21
San Diego, CA
kudos:4
Reviews:
·Cox HSI
·Verizon Broadban..
·Clear Wireless

Re: alerts

said by superfly12 :

that's all great....but they need to lower prices on internation/roaming.....i don't really think the international carriers are charging our carriers that much,our carriers just use it for an excuse to over charge us.....thats IMO

Oh i agree. It's uber annoying that when i travel overseas, i am paying t-mobile uk $2 a freaking minute when it's owned by the same company as my us mobile carrier! If t-mobile where to have a package where you can roam on other t-mobile networks, it would get a LOT of business from travelers and businesses.
--
The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult. The day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
Alden Nowlan

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Evanston, IL

Re: alerts

if you have a smartphone, get a data plan for while you are traveling and maybe take your chances with a sip provider.

djdanska
Rudie32
Premium,MVM
join:2001-04-21
San Diego, CA
kudos:4
Reviews:
·Cox HSI
·Verizon Broadban..
·Clear Wireless

Re: alerts

Oh both my samsung galaxy s 4g and nexus one are sim unlocked and have international 3g (or 4g) support, so i do get a local sim card. But, i also do have wifi calling. I can and do put in my t-mobile sim overseas and make free calls using wifi.
--
The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult. The day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
Alden Nowlan

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Evanston, IL

Re: alerts

I will miss the wifi calling when AT&T takes over as well.

Tomek
Premium
join:2002-01-30
Valley Stream, NY

Usage for "bad" data?

The problem with wireless products is their very low reliability.

Why meters suck.

I am on hold for 20 minutes, I am next line, my phone looses service. I get billed 20 minutes, but call was useless, need to waste another 20+ minutes to accomplish my goal.

I get spam, mistyped or otherwised unwanted SMS

Ads go against my data usage, I don't want them, I want to "opt-out" of that experience. I am downloading new ROM, 80MB later (~80% done), lost signal. Can't resume, need to retry, I still get billed for that bad data.

Something tells me, metering will never include that.
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Semper Fi

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Evanston, IL

Re: Usage for "bad" data?

it's a miracle that they won't include these notification messages in the sms count.
decifal

join:2007-03-10
Bon Aqua, TN
kudos:1

not crazy

Yeah, i'm not crazy about being billed for dropped packets even though I never benefited from them.. Its like pumping gas for your car and just receiving 3/4 of a gallon rather than the whole amount.. It adds up, and its wrong.

But what can you do if you want/need broadband and no landline is available? ATT/Verizon copied each others plans basically and sprint.. Well, if I had a tower in the middle of my house they could compete, but my god.. Signal sucks here..

rchandra
Stargate Universe fan
Premium
join:2000-11-09
14225-2105

1 edit

Re: not crazy

That's why we would/should need something analogous to the Erie County Bureau of Weights and Measures. They are responsible for making sure that, within a tolerance I'm sure, a gallon of fuel measured by a pump is a gallon. But that's just western New York State. National law would require a national standards/certification agency...NIST perhaps? They certainly have a lot of networking experience as one of they country's prime providers of NTP reference time.
--
English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when a writer chooses not to follow those rules.

Jeopardy! replies and randomcaps REALLY suck!
BiggA

join:2005-11-23
EARTH

Bill Shock

shouldn't exist at all. PERIOD.

Back in the days of AOL, if you didn't have the $25 unlimited plan, they capped your overages at $35. So cap texting overages at $30 or $35, since the unlimited is $20. Cap voice overages at 150% of the unlimited plan. Throttle data by default instead of charging overages, or after a few overage blocks have been used up.

Also, international roaming is an absolute SCAM. There is no reason whatsoever that it should cost 10x or more to use an AT&T phone overseas as it would to use a local SIM. It's one giant internet and network, there is no reason for high roaming charges, or high international charges, since Skype and others have done that for 2.2 cents. If they can do it for that, why can't AT&T do 5 and still make a crapload of money? This is a systemic problem, not a billing problem.

That and cruise ship roaming is insane. The cruise ship operators should eat the cost of the systems, not charge insane overage fees, or insane wifi connection fees. Most of those boats are close enough to land most of the time that they should be able to use masted antennas with ground-based connectivity, not satellite to bring the cost down as well. Connecting a high-speed link over 100 miles or more shouldn't be hard if you've got a 250 foot tower on land, and antennas high up on a large cruise ship, and at that size, you could use tracking directional antennas.

rchandra
Stargate Universe fan
Premium
join:2000-11-09
14225-2105

question the need at all

I for one am glad to see the operators voluntarily implementing something instead of the government putting their grubby little hands into even more private entities. But overall, I don't get it, at least not for the US market (can't speak due to lack of knowledge about non-US carriers).

If you're worried about going through your mobile budget before the end of your billing cycle, the answer to me is extraordinarily simple: get off your postpaid program and use prepaid instead. If you use up your minutes or data, your phone reverts to 9-1-1 and the company's numbers/sites only. You will then be quite aware of when your budget's been blown, because you'll have to add more money to your account. I'm not sure it could get a bunch simpler than that.

@BiggA: not quite sure about that. Telecomms billing, for whatever stupid reasons, are really, really convoluted when crossing international borders, immaterial of the medium (except for maybe Internet).
--
English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when a writer chooses not to follow those rules.

Jeopardy! replies and randomcaps REALLY suck!

Bill Neilson
Premium
join:2009-07-08
Arlington, VA

1 recommendation

The fact that this has to be a big deal

shows what utter garbage these ISP's really are in terms of how they treat consumers.

If it weren't for the media stories of people being charged thousands (and thus getting on Google/CNN about it), I doubt any ISP would give a rats ass who they screwed.

As Karl stated (and is always the case), there is absolutely zero penalty for AT&T or others if they break this.