FCC Says Mobile Bills Shock 30 Million Americans Each Month

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that a just-concluded study it commissioned of some 3,000 U.S. mobile users showed that one in six experienced some level of "bill shock"--a sudden, unexpected increase in monthly charges not prompted by a change in service plan.

Inasmuch as 80 percent of U.S. adults have a cell phone, that translates to some 30 million people each month widening their eyes and dropping their jaws when viewing their bill.

More than one third of those shook up by their mobile bills said that the amount owed jumped by at least $50. Nearly one quarter said the surprise was for $100 or more.

The unexpected bills aren't limited only to consumers' cell phone usage but also extend to other goodies such as the dreaded early termination fees (ETF).

The study revealed that nearly 50 percent of cell phone users and 67 percent of home broadband users whose plans carry ETFs don't know how much they might owe should they cancel their service or change providers.

ETFs are a significant reason why cell phone users hesitate to change carriers, even when service is subpar. In fact, 43 percent of cell phone users in the study said that the specter of an ETF would cause them to remain with their existing carrier. 

None of this apparently is much to the liking of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

"A simple and easy to understand mobile purchase and billing process will empower consumers to avoid bill shock and other unexpected fees," Genachowski said.

Earlier this month, the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau issued a public request for solutions asking for possible solutions to bill shock.

"These findings support our ongoing efforts to help consumers get better information on these charges and fees," said Joel Gurin, head of the Bureau.

"As we know from our consumer complaint center, even an unexpected charge of $20 or $30 can make a difference to many people," he said. "Several carriers are taking steps to making their fees and billing more transparent and we would like this to become a universal practice."

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