For Immediate Release - July 07, 2010

AG Coakley's Office Urges FCC to Adopt Common Sense Measures to Address Wireless Phone "Bill Shock"

BOSTON - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office has requested the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate greater transparency and real-time notification to alert wireless phone users of their voice and data usage prior to charging them excessive fees outside of pre-set use plans.

The Attorney General's comments were filed with the FCC in connection with an FCC inquiry aimed at looking into whether it should adopt measures that would alert wireless phone customers before they exceed their predetermined allocations of voice minutes, text message limits, or data usage.

"Rapidly changing technology, easy access to expensive wireless data services and complex billing practices regularly leave wireless phone customers with unexpected and extremely high bills," said AG Coakley. "Simple protections such as usage alerts and preset cut-off mechanisms that have long been standards in other industries should be adopted to better protect wireless customers from unexpected charges."

According to a recent FCC survey on "the consumer mobile experience," one in six mobile telecommunications subscribers, or 30 million Americans, encountered unexpected charges and fees in their bills, commonly known as cell phone bill shock. Of the group of wireless consumers that experienced bill shock, 88 percent stated that their wireless provider did not contact them after their bill increased and 84 percent stated that the wireless provider did not contact them when they were about to exceed their allowed minutes, text allotment, or data usage limits. More than one-third of consumers experiencing bill shock faced a bill increase of at least $50 and 23 percent of cell phone users experiencing bill shock faced a bill increase that was over $100.

To address the pervasive problem of unexpected or unknown wireless phone charges, the AG Office's requested that the FCC adopt simple common sense protections that are already in place for wireless phone customers in the European Union. Wireless carriers should be required to provide real-time usage alerts and pre-designated usage/rate caps (with the ability for a customer to override) at no charge to consumers. These types of regulations will provide consumers with more control over the services to which they subscribe and the bills for those services. This request was made late yesterday in a filing to the FCC.

The Attorney General is the Commonwealth's Ratepayer Advocate and plays an important role in ensuring telecommunications service quality by representing consumers in matters involving the delivery and costs of basic telephone service before state and federal regulators.