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5/18/2010
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Verizon Forgives $18,000 Cell Phone Bill

The Federal Communications Commission is examining ways consumers and wireless providers can avoid cell phone "bill shock" problems.

Bob St. Germain didn't know whether he was more shocked by the $18,000 Verizon Wireless bill or by the firm's forgiveness of the bill.

St. Germain's 22-year-old son racked up the charges over a six-week period in 2006 after a promotional plan expired. Cell phone "bill shock" has been an endemic problem among consumers for years, and the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month said it is examining ways for carriers to alert consumers when their bills reach high levels.

The St. Germain bill stood out because it was so high. Verizon Wireless said it cut the bill in half to $9,000, but that didn't satisfy St. German, who lives in Dover, Mass. Verizon reported it has deemed the bill "uncollectable" with the result that St. Germain doesn't owe anything.

"Bills of this nature are exceptionally rare given our policy of clear disclosure of price plan details at the point of sale and through confirmation letters, the customer's ability to change price plans at any time without fees or extensions, and the many customer tools available for monitoring and managing voice data usage," said a Verizon spokesman, according to media reports. "This combination of transparency, flexibility, and technology serves our customers very well."

The issue of "bill shock" is being examined by the FCC's consumer and governmental affairs bureau and it is looking at the way Europeans help cell phone users avoid receiving an unanticipated bill.

"We've gotten hundreds of complaints about bill shock," said the CGB's chief Joel Gurin earlier this month. But this is an avoidable problem." One method under consideration is based on a texting model where cell phone subscribers will receive a text message on their phones when their bill reaches a high level.

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