Major U.S. mobile carriers will begin offering free usage alerts to customers in an effort to help them avoid surprise charges on their bills, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and a mobile trade group announced Monday.
Carrier members of trade group CTIA have committed to begin delivering free usage alerts to customers when they get close to monthly voice, data or texting limits and when they are about to incur international roaming charges. All CTIA members will deliver alerts in two of the four categories within the next year, with carriers delivering alerts in all four categories by April 2013, said Steve Largent, CTIA's president and CEO.
The FCC has pushed for mobile carriers to cut down on so-called "bill shock," unexpected increases in customers' monthly bills, since May 2010. Some mobile customers have complained of unexpected charges in the thousands of dollars in recent years, said Julius Genachowski, the FCC's chairman.
The new CTIA guidelines are a "big win for consumers," Genachowski said at a press conference. "In these challenging economic times, even a small, unexpected fee on your bill at the end of the month can make a big difference," he added.
Several mobile carriers already offer usage alerts, but the service is not consistently available across the industry and some carriers charge for the alerts. The free alerts will be sent without customers having to sign up for them, Largent said.
Carriers will deliver the alerts both before and after subscribers reach monthly limits on voice, data and text.
In exchange for CTIA's commitment to deliver the alerts, the FCC will drop a rulemaking proceeding focused on ending bill shock. The FCC and Consumers Union, a consumer group endorsing the alert agreement, will monitor carriers for compliance with the commitment, Genachowski said.
Parul Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, praised the CTIA, but urged carriers, with many already offering some alerts, to implement them before the deadlines. "We have ... heard from many consumers about the heavy toll of finding unexpected charges on their monthly cell phone bills," she said. "We think it's possible, and consumer deserve, to begin receiving free alerts now to avoid overcharges."
CTIA members deliver service to 97 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers, according to the trade group. Members include AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Leap Wireless.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.