Author Topic: Please, Just Tell Me When I知 Nearing My Limit  (Read 1610 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Please, Just Tell Me When I知 Nearing My Limit
« on: January 23, 2011, 07:29:23 am »


January 22, 2011
Please, Just Tell Me When I知 Nearing My Limit
CELLPHONE bills bring surprises of only one kind: unpleasant ones.

A monthly plan entails a minimum payment, whether or not the service is used. So the bill can稚 be lower than expected. But it could be higher much higher.

To be precise, there痴 a 1-in-25 chance during a 12-month period of getting a cellphone bill that is $100 higher than expected, based on experiences of respondents in a recent Consumer Reports survey. About one in five reported a significantly higher cellphone bill, of some amount, that was not anticipated.

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission proposed requiring wireless carriers to alert consumers when they池e about to reach their plans limits in call minutes, text messages or data use so they won稚 be shocked at billing time. It conducted its own survey of cellphone users last spring and found that 17 percent had experienced a sudden increase in their bill at some point. That痴 30 million people, the F.C.C. says.

The likelihood of experiencing bill shock can only increase, now that major carriers are dropping all-you-can-eat data plans. Smartphone users, in particular, are exposed to a new possibility of receiving a nasty surprise when the bill arrives.

The F.C.C.痴 proposals are modest, calling only for alerts when use limits are approached and again when they are reached. Requiring alerts would be the least restrictive way for the industry to address the problem. Groups including Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), the Consumer Federation of America and the New America Foundation are urging the F.C.C. to go further, by requiring wireless carriers to get a customer痴 permission to continue service when use limits have been reached. Unless the consumer expresses his or her willingness to continue, the service would be suspended, removing any possibility of bill shock.

Rather than embracing the F.C.C.痴 alerts-only proposal as a less costly solution than one that would suspend service, the wireless industry is fighting regulation of any kind. This month, the carriers and their allied trade groups have filed formal objections to the F.C.C.痴 proposed alerts.

The wireless industry痴 trade group, C.T.I.A.-The Wireless Association, argues that the F.C.C.痴 proposal 砺iolates carriers First Amendment protections; it contends that compelling carriers to provide use alerts is a form of 田ompelled speech. So, by this logic, the carriers should be allowed to remain silent while your phone gobbles up data bits beyond your plan痴 allocation.

The industry says customers can check their current charges by going to their carrier痴 Web site and looking them up or by sending short codes on their phones or installing apps on their smartphones that can provide a tally of minutes and data use. And if customers don稚 remember to check, the carriers can shrug and say, 哲ot our fault.

Overage charges may simply reflect a customer痴 intentional extra use of a service, suggests Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president for regulatory affairs at the C.T.I.A.. 典here are months when my water bill or electricity bill goes up significantly, he said. 典hat doesn稚 mean I知 unhappy with the water or electricity utility.

I wonder, however, whether cellphone service is like other utilities. There痴 no water faucet in my house that I could turn intentionally or accidentally that would lead to a $68,505 bill for the month. That痴 the amount of the largest bill-shock complaint received by the F.C.C. in the first six months of 2010. (An F.C.C. spokeswoman said that the commission痴 staff had investigated and confirmed the details of that particular complaint.)

Mr. Guttman-McCabe says the F.C.C.痴 alerts requirement would cost 鍍ens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to implement. But the C.T.I.A.痴 own written statement describes an industry that has already made considerable investments in infrastructure that enable real-time alerts about use.

AT&T already provides three alerts to iPad users: when data use has reached 80 percent of the plan痴 allocation, again at 90 percent, and once more when the allocation has been reached and overages begin. The C.T.I.A. mentions this example but says Apple iPad users 田an receive alerts rather than saying they 努ill receive them. The phrasing implies that users must opt in. In fact, the alerts are automatic as well as free exactly what the F.C.C. would like to provide all cellphone users.

THE C.T.I.A. cites the SmartAccess program from T-Mobile among exemplars of 殿lerts and cut-off mechanisms that carriers provide without being compelled to do so by Washington. It said SmartAccess allows customers to set a spending limit and, if their account charges exceed the limit, service automatically stops until payment is made to reduce the balance.

But consumer protections not mandated by Washington can disappear at any time. For example, a week after the C.T.I.A. praised it in its filing, I couldn稚 find SmartAccess among offerings at the T-Mobile Web site. When I asked T-Mobile what had happened, a spokesman said SmartAccess no longer existed. (The next day, a spokeswoman offered T-Mobile痴 $4.99-a-month 擢amily Allowances program as an equivalent service, but it doesn稚 cover data use and comes with a disclaimer that it 妬s not intended to prevent overages.)

Currently, most wireless customers must remember to manually check their use tallies. And check again and again. Without the protection of mandated warnings, they risk being the next $68,505 loser.

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail:


Offline bluezulu

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Re: Please, Just Tell Me When I知 Nearing My Limit
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2011, 06:49:15 am »
It is a monthly song and dance with my cell provider. It's ridiculous.