Aug 13, 2020

Proposed FCC rules to halt surprise cellular charges

Photo illustration by Michael Uribes

The nearly limitless capabilities of today’s cellular devices are often paired with service plans that limit the consumer’s usage per month. But when calls, text messages and web browsing are added up on the monthly bill, it’s no question that some students get surprised by large overcharges they weren’t expecting. The Federal Communications Commission unveiled proposals on Thursday, Oct. 14 to ease the shock.

In what it calls “bill shock”, when consumers go over their plans without knowing, the FCC proposed that mobile providers be required to notify subscribers via text message or voice notification when they are about to exceed their limit and receive additional fees. Providers would also be required to inform the customer of international fees and roaming charges that would exceed normal rates or monthly plans.

“[The FCC rules] would be good for us, but not for the cell phone companies,” said Alex Calderon, physical therapy major at Fresno State. “At a time like this in the economy, it would be good for students who are busy and lose track of their minutes.”

Calderon said the rules probably will not affect people like his father who doesn’t use text messaging nearly as much as most students.

To give the user even more worry-free phone usage, tools that could be used to monitor usage and review balance on a device were also proposed.

In addition, the option for a consumer to cap their usage to avoid overcharges may also be a requirement the FCC intends to enforce.

Calderon said he can already check his balance with his current cellular provider but said it should be an option with all companies.

Janine Fernandez, a pre veterinarian student supports the FCC’s proposed rules and thinks an alert system would help consumers avoid increased charges.

“[An alert system] is what I had with my older phone,” said Fernandez. She currently owns a no-contract mobile phone to avoid any monthly charge surprises.

Earlier this month, Verizon Wireless agreed to refund nearly $50 million to about 15 million customers after a two-year FCC investigation found users were paying for data usage or Internet access charges that were not specified in customer contracts, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

According to the FCC website, a recent survey was conducted that showed “30 million Americans—or one in six mobile users—have experienced ‘bill shock’, a sudden and unexpected increase in monthly bills that is not caused by a change in service plans. Bill shock can occur for a number of reasons including unclear or misunderstood advertising, unanticipated roaming or data charges, and other problems.”

Reported in a PCWorld article, the Wireless Association, in a rebuttal of the survey, accused the FCC of polling customers younger than 18 to amplify the results and also asking misleading questions to survey participants. The Wireless Association called “bill shock” an inflammatory term.

The FCC is encouraging consumer feedback of the proposed rules for a monthly period.

“For a portion of people, [the rules] might work,” said Jose Gamino, accounting major at Fresno State. “I don’t think very many people are going to take to it.”

Gamino argued that many people are already getting unlimited plans, like himself, where surprise charges are not much of an issue.

But regardless if the FCC rules are implemented, students should take the necessary precautions said Calderon.

“It should be the responsibility of the user to know what their usage is.”

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