FCC to fight 'cramming' on phone bills

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Monday that he plans to propose new rules that would make it harder for mobile carriers to hit customers with "mystery fees" on their monthly bills.

The practice, known as "cramming," typically involves charging customers between $1.99 and $19.99 per month for services they either didn't use or didn't request. The FCC last week announced fines totaling nearly $12 million against four carriers for cramming.

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Speaking Monday morning at the Center for American Progress, Genachowski said the proposed steps would increase transparency and make it easier for consumers to understand the meaning of charges on their monthly phone bills.

“Cramming is not only illegal, it erodes consumer trust in communications services. The FCC will not tolerate cramming, and we are turning up the heat on companies that rip off consumers with unauthorized fees," Genachowski said.

"We want to send a clear message: If you charge consumers unauthorized fees, you will be discovered and you will be punished," he said.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) praised the FCC's enforcement action last week but at the time expressed skepticism that the Commission's efforts would be enough to end the practice. He has ordered an investigation of the issue and plans to hold a hearing on the cramming soon.

"I am pleased that other parties are looking into cramming, including the Senate Commerce Committee, the FTC, and a number of states," Genachowski said. "In particular, I welcome Sen. Rockefeller's call for a hearing on this issue. I look forward to working with all of these parties to crack down on this illegal practice."

The FCC also posted a tip sheet online that encourages consumers to closely scrutinize their wireless bills to ensure they understand each of the charges listed.