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FCC Mulling 'Bill Shock' Warning System

Article Comments  74  

May 11, 2010, 9:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A new initiative submitted by Joel Gurin, chief of the Federal Communication Commission's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, would help create a warning system for consumers when their cell phone bills surpass a certain amount. The "Bill Shock" initiative would force wireless network carriers to send a warning of some sort (probably via SMS) to subscribers whose bills are running unusually high due to data or other charges so the consumers can curtail use to avoid a large monthly bill. The initiative comes after hundreds of consumers have complained about receiving surprise large bills that are hundreds of dollars more than their normal bill. "We're issuing a Public Notice to see if there's any reason that American carriers can’t use similar automatic alerts [as carriers in Europe are required to do] to inform consumers when they are at risk of running up a high bill. This is an avoidable problem. Avoiding bill shock is good for consumers and ultimately good business for wireless carriers as well," said Gurin.

New York Times »



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May 11, 2010, 12:50 PM

From a carrier perspective

Part of the problem from the carrier's perspective is their point of view on overages and charges. Many see overages not as overages but as additional revenue due to the customer's own efforts. So working with a customer to fix the problem after the bill's come out is seen as a loss of revenue, worthy of all the corporation's efforts to save. If carriers were able to see overages as incidental charges rather than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, consumers wouldn't be as quick to complain to the FCC about unfair practices.

For my company, if someone comes in asking for assistance on their bill, the general attitude is "to hell with the customer, it's their own fault." While I'm not looking to hold the hand of every customer I...
Its not the fact that I don't want them to get a heads up, its just the fact that cell phone companys are required to do so when it shouldn't be.

Just leave it up to a developer to come up with a app or create a company of their own who compliments...
Not to mention, ultimately it will save the company revenue from two perspectives (1. Reduced calls into customer care (2. Reduced credits for overages.

Also, the system would need a method to specify the account admin. I'm sure if the son who u...

May 11, 2010, 5:30 PM

But what about those geniuses...

There will always be customers who block texts, and then don't get the "Bill Shock" warning text. Then, they accuse carriers of not properly informing them of their usage. Customers carry a little responsibility, too.
System messages generally are not halted by sms blocks; they are free regardless of plan.
It wouldn't be that hard to add an email option to the system.

Ultimately, it still becomes the users responsibility to monitor their own usage. This system would be provided for their own convenience and if you don't get text or email, you woul...

May 11, 2010, 2:14 PM

Better solution

If a customer is on say... a 450 min plan and they go over, they automatically get switched up to the next rate plan for that month only.

If they go over their text messages or data they get switched to the according plan for that month only.

Huge overages are not justified when there are other customers using the same cell carrier, with identical amounts of usage, and they pay $89.99 because they are on the right plan... but the guy who happens to go "over" ends up paying a ridiculous $200+ bill.

Personally I think overages are one of the biggest scams ever... fueled by pure greed. I don't think it's good for anyone. It just pisses customers off and leads to churn, also a huge headache for sales reps when customers have problems...
That is a better solution....except there will always be the a$$holes who scream at you because they didn't want to be on a higher plan, even though you just saved them 400 dollars in overage charges. Some people are just plain stupid.
like illegally tethering it then getting hit for data and complaining

May 12, 2010, 11:06 AM

There's a bigger issue at hand...

This topic came up in another thread, but I think it deserves its' own.

There is a major difference between an electricity bill and a cell phone bill, in my opinion.

No matter how much electricity you use, it's bill at the same rate per unit. You pay for what you use, light or heavy usage. Enough said.

On a cell phone bill, the rate goes up dramatically if you have a heavy usage month. On a $39.99/450 minute plan, those 450 minutes cost a mere $.09 cents each, if you assume all other minutes (night & weekend, in-network) are free. However, once you exceed those 450 minutes, you are charged a whopping $.45 for each minute used.

How can the first 450 minutes cost less than a dime a piece, and additional minutes are practically 2/...
This is true, except if your on a budget plan, then you pay the same no matter how little or much you use...

May 11, 2010, 12:35 PM

FCC??? What about

My electric Bill????

Are they going to send me a text letting me know its high, or will I continue to hold my breath everytime I open the mail?

This is insane. The things consumers require cell phone companys to do but no other company has to do it...
Wrong regulatory commission!

May 11, 2010, 10:19 AM

Tag: sudden outbreak of common sense

Since companies like verizon and AT&T have no issue giving someone an $18k bill, it's about time someone steps in and protects the consumer.

Businesses need to make money... But something like this needs to be done.
That 18k bill was from tethering the device, something that wasn't part of any data plan he thought he had, it was also from 2006, when cheap unlimited plans did not exist.

Automatic alerts are a good thing.. but people also need to not be idiots
You do realize that the clown with the $18k bill was ILLEGALLY accessing data right? He freely admitted to tethering his devices when his plan did not allow for that type of billing so he consumed obnoxious amounts of data. 5GB is all that is included...
To have some one from government do this? What ever happened to personal responsibility? I guess now that big brother is here we do not need to be responsible 😢

May 11, 2010, 7:07 PM

This should be done on everything

Wow I would love not having to be responsible. They should do this for gas and electricity. Then I can know when I'm cooking too much or need to turn my lights off.

May 11, 2010, 10:11 AM


How about making my car issue a "Bill Shock" warning if I drive too many miles in a single day?

Makes just as much sense.
Your analogy doesn't make any sense at all and if anything argues the idea that prepaid plans are better than monthly plans at dealing with overages.

Your car is essentially a prepaid plan letting you buy enough to last you a rough number of mil...
Unless your monthly car payment is affected by mileage this comparison has no basis in reality.

1 mile... Or 5000. I owe he same on my car loan. I pay more for gas, but that's more akin to prepay since I can't pay for gas after the fact (andi stil...

May 11, 2010, 12:47 PM

This is America

So this Is America, Capitalist society.

Its should be up to other companies like someone mentioned earlier that the android market already has a app that does this, and thats what and all it should be to it.

A company should have though of this a long time ago. Create a app that allows for you to put in your amount of minutes you have and your data pack and etc. and program the app to alert you when your going over that bar. Its up to the consumers to protect themsleves, yes it would be nice for mom and dad to protect us our whole lives but come on now we are grown! Its up to us.
Every carrier that I know of has a speed dial codes to access min, text & data usage on the acct. Plus of course the online accout managers that each provider offers. Every step is already in place to give the customer access to real time billing & o...

May 11, 2010, 12:25 PM


US Cellular already has in place an overage protection for Voice and Text messages. It lets our customers know when they have reached 75% of plan minutes and plan text messages. It will also send them another text when they reach 100%. It will not prevent them from going over but proactively let them know. Best yet; ITS FREE!!!!
As does TMO, at least through the "My Accout" app for the Android phones.

May 11, 2010, 10:09 AM


[as carriers in Europe are required to do], this is NOT Europe as much as Obama wants it to be, it,s not. Come on people take responsibility for your self. We do NOT need the government to hold our hands in our daily lives, or at least I DON,T.
This is the FCC making the requirement, not the President.

I think this is a brilliant idea. It's a service that the cell carriers would roll out to alert people about over-use. Why would you be opposed to it?
While people should be responsible ...
IF the system is easy to implement (as in your sign up for alerts like are offered now for minute overage) I see downside to this program.

The fact of the matter is many customers are not educated enough at the point of purchase. Just because you ...
I am as conservative as they come. I'd love to blame Obama for anything, but this dog don't hunt. Yes, he is head of the executive branch, and the FCC falls under him. But, he would have had zero input over this decision.

More importantly, this is...

May 11, 2010, 11:35 AM

haha wow..

Another way for wireless companies to "baby" their customers. Since when did a cellular service contract state that you verbally or physically agree to this legal binding contract and oh yeah we're gonna hold your hand every step of the way. There are too many self service options out there to check your unbilled usage. The reason why this is pressed on the wireless carriers now is due to people complaining to the FCC that they didnt recieve any notification on THEIR high bill for charges that THEY accumulated. I mean how hard it is to dial *225# or check their wireless account online any time throughout the day. Its the customers fault since they dont show the initiative. Even some devices come preloaded with short codes to text their provi...

May 11, 2010, 10:33 AM

*siGH* Here we go again - big G catering to the idiot

Ok - while I applaud the effort and IDEA behind it, we simply are NOT Europe and personal responsibility should matter. If your kid cant handle a cell phone without running up data charges, do the responsible thing and TAKE it from them. More of Big G doing the parenting for them (in this instance). Further this entrenches the entitlement culture in this country to new unprecidented levels. Cell phone companies have a way for the customer to monitor their usage; its called a website, # code features, and DATA FREE usge to see your current usage for data, text, and voice. If the consumer is so ignorant to not take advantage of these things - NOT MY PROBLEM - and they are left with what they used. These methods of checking your bill and usage ...
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