Prices aren't going down, but at least you'll be warned how much expensive data you're using.
The Federal Communications Commission and the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, on Monday said telecommunication service providers have agreed to a plan to notify mobile phone customers before and after massive bills arrive.
The unexpected arrival of exorbitant bills has been deemed to be responsible for "bill shock," a term that pathologizes the surprise that results from the combination of opaque telecom industry billing practices and a regulatory environment that lets carriers charge exceedingly high rates.
In 2009, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl held an inquiry into whether lack of competition in the cellphone industry was responsible for rising text messaging rates. At the time, he noted that Americans pay more for wireless service than consumers in most other developed nations do.
Since then AT&T made a bid to acquire T-Mobile, a deal that the Department of Justice presently opposes for being anti-competitive.
CTIA CEO Steve Largent characterized the plan, known as the "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines," as evidence of "the U.S. wireless industry's incredible innovation and competition."
Under the plan, mobile carriers will provide alerts--at no additional charge--before and after subscribers hit their monthly limits on voice, data, and text messages, as well as notification of roaming charges for those traveling abroad.
"Consumers have been telling us about 'bill shock' for a long time, and we've been pushing for reforms to crack down on the problem," said Consumers Union policy counsel Parul P. Desai, in a statement. "We're encouraged that the industry is offering to provide free alerts to help customers avoid 'bill shock,' and we urge them to do it as quickly as possible."
Desai noted that some carriers already provide bill shock notifications, but, evidently oblivious to the irony of the situation, only for a fee.
FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps in a statement said that while the plan does not put an end to consumer concerns, it represents a welcomed effort.
"This has been a serious problem well documented by the thousands of complaints we have received at the agency," he said.
Carriers will have to provide two of these four notifications by October 17, 2012, and all four by April 17, 2013.
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