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5/26/2010
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FCC Says 30 Million Report Wireless 'Bill Shock'

The findings of a survey released by the FCC indicate that 30 million Americans have experienced the shock of unexpected increases in their monthly mobile phone bill.

The FCC has released a survey of mobile bill shock incidents among U.S. mobile phone subscribers and the results are – you guessed it – shocking. Some 30 million American s reported they have experienced “bill shock,” which is defined as an unexpected increase in a monthly bill not caused by a change in a service plan.

The survey results came on the heels of an incident reported settled in recent days in which a Massachusetts man had been jolted by a $18,000 Verizon Wireless bill that he didn’t know was accruing. After much haggling, Verizon forgave the bill, even though the man who allegedly owed the bill never denied the charges hadn’t unknowingly been racked up.

The FCC found that most surprise fees were small –more than one-third of those experiencing bill shock reported their bills were up by at least $50 while 23% said the hit was $100 or more. The FCC noted that those figures could nonetheless be difficult to pay for consumers of modest means.

“The FCC’s consumer survey provides an important snapshot of the real-world experiences of mobile customers,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. “There is still more that can be done to help customers navigate what is sometimes a confusing marketplace. A simple and easy-to-understand mobile purchase and billing process will empower consumers to avoid bill shock and other unexpected fees.”

The FCC indicated it could follow European Union regulations that have been established to assist mobile handset subscribers from being jolted by unexpected phone fees and bills. The EU calls for alert messages to be sent to mobile phone subscribers when their service usage hits predetermined levels of usage. Messages are sent to consumers when they are in danger of incurring high fees for voice, text or data.

While the FCC survey focused primarily on mobile phone bill shock, the FCC’s Joel Gurin, chief of the agency’s Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau, said similar results were recorded in an FCC survey of home broadband termination fees. Many consumers, for instance, weren’t aware there was an early termination fee for broadband and for those who were aware, they had no idea what the fee was.

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