Bill would ban third-party charges on telephone bills

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An investigation by Rockefeller's Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last year found that phone companies had placed $10 billion in third-party charges on customers' landline phone bills over the previous five years — and that a large percentage of those charges were unauthorized.

Some people unwittingly enrolled in services by submitting their phone number to companies online or by agreeing to services over the phone. Others never did anything to participate in the programs but were charged anyway.

The unwanted services included weekly emails on "celebrity gossip" and "fashion tips."

“Unauthorized charges on telephone bills have plagued telephone customers for years,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “And our investigation showed just how pervasive cramming is. It confirmed that third-party billing through wireline telephone bills has greatly harmed consumers. It was a system rife with fraud. With a couple exceptions, there’s simply no justification for allowing third-party billing on wireline telephone bills to continue."

His bill would make exemptions for certain third-party charges, such as collect calls and "bundled" services like satellite television, sold with the telephone service.

Although the ban on cramming would only apply to landline telephone companies, Rockefeller sent letters to the major wireless carriers on Wednesday, expressing concern that crammers could be migrating to the wireless industry. 

His legislation would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create rules to protect wireless consumers from cramming and ensure they are reimbursed for unwanted charges.

The FCC adopted a regulation in April that requires landline providers to notify consumers about the option to block third-party charges, but the rule did not apply to wireless carriers.