New FCC Rules Prevent Surprise Cell Phone Bills

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When will our cell phones be as good as our TVs?

    We've all heard the horror stories about returning from vacation to find a cell phone bill in the thousands of dollars. Roaming in a foreign land racks up crazy fees and surcharges, causing shock and dismay upon receipt.

    But now the FCC has taken steps to prevent surprise bills. One in six cell phone users has faced a monumental bill, according to the FCC, including bills of over $1,000 for 20 percent of complainants. Customers have had to struggle to get the companies to reverse the charges. One victim was a disaster volunteer working in Haiti who found that her international plan didn't cover data, and got a bill that was over $30,000. T-Mobile forgave most of those charges, but is still demanding several thousand dollars from the Haiti volunteer.

    The proposed rules would require the phone companies to notify users when they're racking up huge bills. Customers would get a text or voice alert when they exceed certain limits on usage or fees.

    Predictably, phone companies are opposed. They claim that they already provide users with tools to monitor their usage. But obviously, those tools are insufficient. When's the last time you check to see how many minutes or texts you've used this month? Do you even know how to check? Most folks don't.

    A representative for a wireless trade group claimed that customers will find all the answers they need by reading the instruction manual that came with their phone. Because you always memorize your cellphone instruction manual front-to-back, right?

    According to T-Mobile, customers can call a special number to get a report on their monthly usage. Verizon says that it offers text alerts. But those tools vary too much from one carrier to another, says the FCC, which wants the companies to standardize their communication.