FCC to look at 'bill shock' resulting from cell phone fees

The FCC is examining ways to crack down wireless providers that fail to notify their customers before they incur hefty fees and insurmountable phone bills.

An initiative launched Tuesday by the commission's Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau would solicit ideas on ways for cell phone companies to alert callers before they exceeded limits on their data plans, triggered serious roaming charges or consumed far more than their alotted monthly minutes. 

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The effort is meant to address the so-called "bill shock" that has plagued wireless customers across providers, according to the commission.

"There can be many causes of bill shock, including unclear or misunderstood advertising, unanticipated roaming or data charges, and other problems,” said Joel Gurin, who leads the FCC's consumer wing. “All can lead to charges that people don’t expect to get."

One plan would require cell phone companies to text their customers before they are slapped with high and unexpected charges. A similar system is already in place in Europe, the FCC noted in a release announcing it would solicit public comment on the matter.

"In the European Union, carriers are required by law to send text messages to consumers when they are running up roaming charges or getting close to a set limit for data roaming," he continued. "We’re issuing a Public Notice to see if there’s any reason that American carriers can’t use similar automatic alerts to inform consumers when they are at risk of running up a high bill.”