* Industry to alert customers on imminent charges
* FCC supports initiative, backs off "bill shock" rules
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 The U.S. wireless industry
is rolling out more consumer-friendly billing practices,
fending off a plan by communications regulators to impose new
rules against unexpected charges.
Guidelines to be unveiled on Monday by the wireless trade
association, CTIA, will see companies send alerts to customers
when they near and reach monthly limits on voice, text and data
services, and before they incur international roaming charges.
Similar to rules the Federal Communications Commission was
contemplating, the regulator is backing off its plan for now.
"Consistent with the FCC's ongoing efforts, these actions
harness technology to empower consumers, and ensure consumers
get a fair shake, not bill shock," FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski said in a statement.
The FCC has found that one in six mobile phone users have
experienced bill shock, or unexpected fees tacked onto their
monthly bill, and 23 percent of those users faced unexpected
charges of $100 or more.
The FCC proposed rules last October that would make mobile
phone companies send text or voice alerts to customers before
charging them for services not covered by their plans.
Consumers should begin receiving warnings about their bills
faster under the industry initiative than the FCC would have
been able to require through the rulemaking process.
CTIA, representing companies serving 97 percent of wireless
customers, will announce the voluntary guidelines, including
disclosure of tools that make it easier for customers to track
and control their service usage.
The trade group expressed concern last October that
prescriptive and costly rules could threaten practices in the
industry that have already led to fewer wireless complaints and
lower average monthly bills.
The FCC intends to leave its bill shock proceeding open. If
wireless carriers fail to comply with the industry guidelines,
the agency can still move ahead with enforceable rules, an FCC
"Our phones shouldn't cost us more than the monthly rent or
mortgage," said President Barack Obama in a statement,
applauding the wireless industry's efforts to work with the
CTIA Chief Executive Steve Largent called the initiative an
example of how federal agencies and the industries they
regulate can work together to avoid burdensome rulemakings, as
directed by a recent executive order from Obama.
Wireless carriers are to provide at least two of the four
alerts -- voice, text, data or roaming -- within 12 months and
the rest within 18 months, under the industry initiative.
The FCC said the alerts will require substantial investment
from wireless companies as they must make upgrades to their
The majority of Americans get their wireless service
through major providers such as AT&T Inc , Sprint Nextel
Corp , Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, and Verizon
Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc
and Vodafone Group Plc .