After years of cell phone consumer complaints about "mystery charges" and a survey that showed that 30 million Americans complained about surprising cell phone bill charges, all five FCC commissioners voted Thursday to examine a proposal to deal with the issue.
A final vote on mandating carriers to alert consumers when they are about rack up additional charges is likely to take place after the issue has been examined in more detail by the FCC.
The commissioners may have a successful template available: in a release. Sprint noted that it has a series of tools already in use for its subscribers so they can avoid unexpected charges on their bills. "At any point during a Sprint customer's billing cycle," according to the release, "he or she may dial *4 from their handsets to get an automated tally of their voice minutes, text messages and data used to date. Customers also have the capability to have the information sent to them by text message."
Thursday's FCC action was welcomed by public interest groups, but the two Republican FCC commissioners, some carriers and industry trade groups cautioned the FCC against acting too hastily. "Being data-driven means more than focusing on a few facts and figures," said ranking Republican commissioner Robert McDowell. "What is not stated is that America is home to 295 million wireless subscribers."
However, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski took a hardnosed stance on the issue citing a 300-page cell phone bill that has been displayed on a YouTube clip.
"In an era where 300-page bills are within the realm of possibility, it's hard to keep track of everything you're being charged and too easy to find yourself paying more than you had planned on," said Genachowski in a statement. "At the FCC, we've received a growing number of reports of 'mystery fees' popping up on bills that subscribers weren't aware of and that, in a number of cases, were unauthorized."
The chairman also noted it was reported last week that Verizon Wireless had mistakenly overcharged more than 15 million Americans more than 50 million dollars.
Genachowski added that the FCC will soon hold a public forum on unexpected phone charges "and related issues."