The federal government is considering new rules for cell phone companies that would alert customers before they run out of minutes, go over on text messaging, date limits, or collect international roaming fees.
The Federal Election Commission voted Thursday to gather public input on the rules, meant to ward off wireless “bill shock.” The regulations are being considered after a large number of customers complained about large surprise fees.
“Consumers are being charged real money that they shouldn’t be charged for,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “So this is about harnessing technology to empower consumers and give them information to control their bills.”
The proposed rules would require cell phone companies to notify customers as they near monthly usage limits and when they reach those limits by sending voicemail or text message alters. Companies would also have to alert customers traveling abroad about any extra charges for using their phones outside of the United States.
The FCC is also considering requiring companies to allow all customers the chance to limit their usage or in the very least clearly notify subscribers on tools available to set limits or review usage.
Consumer watchdog groups are hailing the new rules as ways to discourage what they say are predatory wireless fees.
Joel Kelsey, of the public interest group Free Press, said there is often a difference between the services customers think they are agreeing to and what they see later on their wireless bills.
A recent survey by the FCC found that one out of every six wireless customers saw a surprise increase to their monthly bill despite having made no changes to their service.