Yesterday was BS (Bill Shock) Day at the FCC in the United States. This is the day the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) plans to introduce new rules for mobile phone bills. The goal is to avoid consumer ‘bill shock’ from unexpected charges. The rules may require wireless companies to alert customers before they exceed limits much the same as European regulators have already introduced.
For customers like 27-year-old Washington woman, Kerfye Pierre, it comes a bit late after she received a whopping $35,000 mobile phone bill from T-Mobile. Just the sort of event the FCC is trying to prevent and one that mobile CSPs like T-Mobile should have done everything to avoid. Ms Pierre’s case is another PR nightmare for the industry not only because it received national press coverage but because she was serving as volunteer relief worker in Haiti when she racked up the enormous bill.
What began as a truly magnanimous gesture from T-Mobile, granting volunteer workers a temporary free voice plan allowing them to call home at no charge, turned sour because it was not made clear that SMS and data traffic was specifically excluded. Sure, we all know what free voice means but to subscribers the key words are ‘free call plans’ with no differentiation between what type of activity is carried out on the mobile device.
No doubt, the FCC will see this as another good reason to force CSPs to alert customers if they are about to rack up abnormal fees, such as those charged for sending too many text messages or downloading too much data. For Ms Pierre, the press coverage earned her a reprieve of sorts, but she still ended up with a bill for $5,000. The FCC proposal looks like it will set up alerts for international roaming charges and would require phone companies to publicize the ways consumers can track their phone use and avoid fees. CNN reports that even while mobile phone bills that amount to tens of thousands of dollars are certainly the exception, ‘bill shock’ appears to be a relatively common occurrence. An FCC survey conducted in April and May found one in six mobile phone customers has experienced some degree of bill shock — and nearly half of those who had been surprised by their bills were hit with charges of $50 or more.
Not surprisingly, the CTIA, a trade group that represents the four major mobile carriers in the USA, opposes the regulations. The group says wireless companies already offer consumers ways to find out how much data, texts and voice service they’ve used — and continues to develop new tools in that regard. If that is the case one wonders why Ms Pierre was not warned of her excesses, surely a $35,000 bill would stand out in any mobile operator. Whatever the CTIA might think and say it seems too late to have any effect in view of the expected FCC announcements.
I’m wondering how long before we see a clever insurance company offering ‘bill shock’ policy?