The Federal Communications Commission today considered new rules to prevent wireless carriers from charging customers unauthorized fees, its latest attempt to defend the public against telecommunications companies’ billing policies.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency is discussing a plan to protect consumers from wireless companies charging “cramming” and other mystery fees. Cramming is a hidden fee between $2 and $20 per month that is often overlooked on a customer’s bill for services they didn’t request.
“The FCC will not tolerate cramming, and we are turning up the heat on companies that rip off consumers with unauthorized fees,” said Genachowski in a statement. “We want to send a clear message: if you charge consumers unauthorized fees, you will be discovered and you will be punished.”
The FCC is already cracking down on wireless companies who slip in unauthorized charges into monthly bills. Last week, the agency fined four small companies in Pennsylvania $11.7 million, accusing them of adding unwarranted long-distance-related fees to subscribers’ phone bills.
“This [proposal] is both about making sure consumers aren’t getting ripped off and also about fostering trust in communication services,” said Genachowski. “Practices that hurt the trust and confidence consumers have in communication services are bad for our economy.”
The USTelecom Association, which represents phone companies, said it supports the FCC’s efforts at combating this trend.
The group said its members “are working to protect their customers by continually updating their procedures to prevent unauthorized charges.”
This is the latest attempt by the FCC at protecting U.S. wireless customers against the wireless industry. In October, the FCC proposed rules requiring wireless companies alert customers by voice or text message before they run out of minutes to prevent them from being charged additional charges, preventing “bill shock”.
Under the FCC’s proposal, carriers are also forced to notify customers who travel overseas if they will be charged extra to use their phones outside the U.S.
In addition to tackling hidden charges, the FCC has created a website to hear the public’s opinion in regards to the proposed AT&T buyout of T-Mobile. People can go to the agency’s Electronic Comment Filing System and fill out a form to comment on the site. Creating a platform like this one allows the FCC to gauge how the public feels about the possible merger, and give the FCC an idea of how the merger would be received.
The FCC is looking to the public because there is division over the possibility that a merger would mean higher prices for consumers. Because AT&T and Verizon would control about 80 percent of the market share, the companies could charge consumers whatever they wanted because there are very few other options.
Wireless consumers around the country will no doubt support the FCC’s proposal to eliminate practices that require consumers to pay for services and fees they have no agreed to.