Democrats investigate hidden fees on Internet, cellphone bills

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"Transparency and disclosure in the marketplace ensure that consumers are able to accurately compare competing services and choose the provider that best meets their needs," wrote Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) and Jim Matheson (Utah).

The lawmakers all serve on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Eshoo is the panel's ranking member.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and CenturyLink received the letters.

The lawmakers asked the companies to detail any extra fees they charge and how they disclose those fees. They asked whether the companies charge customers for changing their service plan and whether they notify consumers before imposing extra costs.

Consumer advocacy groups Public Knowledge, Consumers Union and Free Press issued statements applauding the lawmakers for opening the investigation. 

"Consumers expect to pay for communication services, but they cannot make informed choices between providers if they are advertised one price and then billed another," Christopher Lewis, the vice president of government affairs for Public Knowledge, said.

Jot Carpenter, the vice president of government affairs for wireless industry group CTIA, said the mobile carriers "do an excellent job in disclosing taxes, fees, and other charges to consumers" and are bound to follow an industry code of conduct. 

He noted that the carriers already agreed two years ago to provide alerts to consumers before imposing additional fees for surpassing limits on voice, text, data or roaming. 

—Updated at 5:22 p.m.