* FCC to consider rules to fight "cramming" on phone bills
* Would aim to increase transparency, protect consumers
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, June 20 The top U.S. communications
regulator said on Monday that he will propose rules to combat
unauthorized fees on consumers' monthly phone bills.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius
Genachowski said he will circulate a proposal to his fellow
commissioners on Tuesday to protect consumers from "cramming,"
the illegal placement of extra charges on phone bills.
Cramming likely affects up to 20 million Americans, the FCC
estimates, adding anywhere from $1.99 to $19.99 a month to a
customer's phone bill. The charges can originate from the phone
companies as well as from third parties.
The charges, often hidden in lengthy billing statements
with difficult to decipher language, often go unnoticed but can
add up to hundreds of dollars, Genachowski said.
"The FCC will not tolerate cramming and mystery fees, and
we're turning up the heat on companies that rip off consumers
with unauthorized fees," he said during an event at the Center
for American Progress, a progressive policy institute.
The agency last week proposed $11.7 million in penalties
against four companies that allegedly charged thousands of
customers for long distance services they had not ordered.
The FCC Enforcement Bureau found that Main Street
Telephone, VoiceNet Telephone LLC, Cheap2Digital Telephone LLC
and Norristown Telephone LLC overcharged consumers about $8
Verizon Wireless (VZ.N) (VOD.L), the top U.S. mobile
service, agreed to a $25 million settlement last October on top
of refunding consumers more than $50 million for charging
mystery fees after a 10-month FCC investigation.
The proposed rules would increase transparency and
disclosure in an effort to enable consumers to more easily spot
"The Commission is united in believing that companies that
put unauthorized charges on bills must be punished, and I
believe will be united in crafting sensible rules that empower
consumers with the ability to make the market work,"
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)