FCC Boss Julius Genachowski today breathlessly praised the wireless industry for advancements in preventing "bill shock," while ignoring the fact that many wireline and wireless meters don't work correctly. Exactly one year ago carriers and the FCC agreed to new voluntary bill shock guidelines
, the agency driven by repeated stories of users facing wireless bills for thousands of dollars (or more). The bills are usually the result of customers who failed to read and understand roaming data rates, and carriers not exactly motivated to make understanding such rates easy.
Like so many FCC initiatives the program was primarily a show pony for the agency, given that carriers had already adopted most of the proposals
to avoid lawsuits and real consumer protections. The plan primarily included ensuring that companies send users free notices when they're nearing data, SMS and voice plan limits, and that users can opt out of these notices. That's really rather simple, and it's something companies that bill by the byte
should have implemented from the start.
One year later, the FCC is patting itself and carriers on the back
for a job almost well done. At least according to the FCC, who provides absolutely no hard data showing that things have improved:
“When we launched this initiative last year, we made a commitment that the FCC would remain vigilant to ensure this agreement was effective for consumers. We have, and it is. Today, by harnessing technology to empower consumers, almost all Americans can receive alerts to help avoid unexpected charges, giving them the information they need to manage monthly wireless bills. I’m pleased to report that we’re on track to full industry compliance by April. I want to thank the wireless industry and Consumers Union for their continued partnership in this important effort."
The Consumer's Union was supposed to track the efficiency of the program, though a press release
simply joins the "carriers are almost complying 12 months later" festivities -- with no data that the effort is helping yet. Ignored by the FCC (and the Consumer's Union, and the press) is the growing fact that both wireline
usage meters often don't measure usage accurately, resulting in repeated over-billing for all broadband users. A recent study by the University of California
found that wireless meters struggle particularly in unreliable coverage areas, with the majority of customers billed for potentially hundreds of megabytes -- or more -- never actually used.
Despite repeated evidence that some carrier meters often don't work (with obviously little incentive to improve them), the FCC has never seen fit to so much as acknowledge inaccurate usage meters.