That’s because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the CTIA Wireless Association have reached an agreement where CTIA member carriers will send out free alerts to subscribers who are about to exceed their monthly service limits and incur overage charges on their accounts. In addition to sending alerts for users about to incur overage charges, the carriers will also issue alerts to users when they are about to incur international roaming charges. The policies are designed to help users avoid “bill shock,” a term used by the FCC last year to describe large, unexpected overage charges that appear on users’ wireless bills.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, appearing at a joint press conference Monday with CTIA President Steve Largent, said that carriers would offer the alerts automatically and consumers would not be required to opt in to start receiving wireless usage notes. He also said that the FCC will soon launch a Web portal in tandem with the Consumers Union advocacy organization to help users learn what kinds of alerts are offered by different carriers and to track whether carriers are complying with their own standards and policies.
While U.S. carriers such as Sprint Nextel and AT&T Inc. have already developed their own alert systems to warn consumers of additional charges, the deal with CTIA will not only bring more carriers into the fold but will provide a uniform way for consumers to understand their carriers’ system for setting up alerts. And as Consumers Union policy counsel Parul P. Desai noted today, some carriers had been charging their customers to receive alert notices before the FCC-CTIA deal, meaning that the agreement to provide free alerts will save some wireless subscribers additional money every month.
The FCC has been working on ways to help consumers avoid bill shock for the past year. It commissioned a survey last year showing that 17 per cent of U.S. cellphone users said their cellphone bills had “increased suddenly from one month to the next” even if they “did not change the calling or texting plan” they subscribed to.