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
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.
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.
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.
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.
| |rchandraStargate Universe fanPremium
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!
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.