FCC Proposes Alerts In Wireless Overage Charges - InformationWeek

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Commentary
5/12/2010
12:03 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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FCC Proposes Alerts In Wireless Overage Charges

Few things can ruin your day like opening your phone bill and seeing that it is for over $1,000, $5,000, or even higher. This happens more often than you might think and now the Federal Communications Commission wants to put a tool into consumers hands that would mitigate this scenario. It is bold, clever and a technological marvel heretofore unconceivable by carriers. They are called - alerts. I know, it is a crazy idea isn't it?

Few things can ruin your day like opening your phone bill and seeing that it is for over $1,000, $5,000, or even higher. This happens more often than you might think and now the Federal Communications Commission wants to put a tool into consumers hands that would mitigate this scenario. It is bold, clever and a technological marvel heretofore unconceivable by carriers. They are called - alerts. I know, it is a crazy idea isn't it?Carriers have the ability to track every minute you talk, every text you send or receive and every kilobyte you transmit. They can turn that into a 300 page phone bill, double sided of course, that was shipped in a box. They couldn't figure out though how to prevent users from getting phone bill shockers where someone, usually a teen, sent an absurd amount of texts without an unlimited texting plan or someone streamed a bunch of video and blew the lid off of their allowed data plan.

According to the Wall Street Journal, our European friends get text alerts from the carrier if they are nearing some of their limits, and the FCC wants to see if there is any reason American carriers cannot do the same.

The main reason this isn't feasible, of course, is it will limit revenue. Since the user has no way to track this themselves, this is a bit like going to Disney World back when each ride cost a ticket that varied in price with no way to track your costs while you are at the park. The cooler the ride, the higher the ticket cost, ranging from a kiddie ride A-ticket to a blood curdling E-ticket roller coaster. Hence the term "E-ticket ride" to describe some sort of highly unusual experience. For example, getting a "phone bill shocker" would be an E-ticket ride

Back then, Disney World let you know how much each ride was as you rode it so you could track your expenses. What the carriers do though is tell you that some rides cost 10 cents each (texts), 5 cents each (kb of data), or 50 cents each (overage minutes on voice) but they accumulate this for you largely in secret, and then bill you at the end of your stay this month in their amusement park. You get a shock when you find out that your teenaged son went to ride Space Mountain over and over all day long with his girlfriend instead of going to see some of the shows he told you he was going to. Surprise!

You can find examples of this on the web pretty easily. This family got a $1,100 phone bill when their daughter sent 6,807 texts in one month. This family got a $17,984.02 phone bill - yes, almost eighteen thousand dollars - when their son pulled down 1.13GB of data using his phone.

Don't expect to find an alert signup on your carrier's website immediately though. The FCC will be gathering info for several months on this before taking steps. Our government is nothing if not ponderous in its deliberations. Do you think the FCC will prevail here, or will the carriers convince them that not giving alerts is really in the best interest of its customers, much like when they tried to convince us that high early terminations fees that aren't prorated or related to the cost of the phone are really a good thing?

Besides, consumers love a good E-ticket ride, right?

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