FTC: Consumers should have power to block third-party charges on cellphone bills

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The FCC, which regulates the telecommunications industry, adopted rules in April to combat cramming on landline phones. The commission also asked for comments from the public and other agencies on whether it should take action against cellphone cramming.

The FTC, which focuses on consumer protection issues, admitted that there are legitimate reasons that customers may want third-party charges on their cellphone bills. 

Third-party charges on landline bills, however, are almost always fraudulent, the agency said.

The FTC said cellphone cramming should not be regulated as intensely as landline cramming and said voluntary industry-led efforts are an important step towards helping consumers.

But the agency argued that certain baseline regulations, including allowing consumers to opt-out of all third-party charges, are necessary for cellphone bills.

The FTC said landline cramming has become a "massive problem over the past two decades," affecting about 15 to 20 million households per year. 

"That situation should not be allowed to develop in the wireless context," the agency wrote. "The FTC believes that specific consumer protections are needed now – most importantly, the right to block all third- party billing to wireless bills – and that further assessment is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of industry standards and whether further protections in this area are warranted."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation last month that would ban most third-party charges on landline bills.

His Fair Telephone Billing Act would also direct the FCC to create rules to protect wireless consumers from cramming and ensure they are reimbursed for unwanted charges.

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