FCC Wants Cell Carriers to Warn People Before Overages Occur

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The FCC is expected to propose rules that would require cellular companies to send text or voicemail messages to customers before they go over their minutes, according to Bloomberg. The rules would also provide for warnings to be sent to customers roaming on international networks outside the US, which can often result in expensive per-minute fees.

A spokesman for the CTIA wireless industry trade group said that such rules would be "prescriptive and costly" and insists, "The industry continues to develop tools to keep customers informed about their level of usage."

The FCC is proposing the rules in light of over 750 complaints from wireless customers received within the first half of the year, with 20% of those complaints stemming from bills with overage charges in excess of $1,000.

Despite the industry’s insistence that warning people who are about to go over their minutes would be "prescriptive and costly," the fact of the matter is that there are very few fixed monthly expenditures that can balloon so wildly out of control without warning. The FCC cites the largest complaint from the first half of the year as being for a $68,505 overage charge.

Overage charges are a massive source of income for these wireless companies. Take AT&T for instance. The least expensive individual monthly voice plan runs $40 per month and includes 450 minutes—roughly nine cents per minute. Once you hit that 450-minute limit, though, the per-minute cost skyrockets fivefold up to 45 cents per minute. Just going over by 100 minutes would cost more than your regular monthly rate, so you can see why these wireless companies aren’t big on warning people who are about to go over.

As for the "tools to keep customers informed about their level of usage," the FCC’s plan "would require clear disclosure of the tools to track minutes of use," according to Bloomberg. The summary of the FCC’s proposed rules apparently says that "too many customers don’t know about them."

The FCC will propose the rules tomorrow with the intent to take a vote in the coming months, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

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