It has only taken 15 years, and a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission for the mobile industry to step up to voluntarily providing consumers with a notice when they are nearing their monthly limits on voice, data or text plans, and are therefore at risk of incurring extra charges.
Over the past 18 months, the F.C.C. has looked into the issue of consumer “bill shock” that nasty feeling one gets when opening your monthly wireless statement and find unexpected overage charges in the tens, hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Wireless carriers will be able to choose from four methods of notifying consumers that they’re reaching their budgeted limits, but within the next twelve months the companies must have these notices started, and within 18 months all of the alerts must be in place. Equally important, the notices must be free of charge and automatic, though consumers can choose to opt out if they prefer.
This change in notification is critical at a time when smartphone and wireless tablet adoption is skyrocketing. As this illustration points out, smartphones use 24 times the data of a conventional cell phone, and tablets take 122 times more data than smart phones.
The enormous increase in data capacity and usage makes the risks of overage charges a significant and growing threat to consumer’s pocketbooks, particularly as the ‘all-you-can-eat’ phone plans are vanishing.
According to an FCC survey conducted in April-May of 2010, 30 million Americans have experienced cell phone bill shock. More than half those consumers saw an increase of $50 or more and 23% had unexpected charges of $100 or more. In another report published in October 2010, the FCC data showed that 20% of the bill shock complaints it received during the first half of 2010 were for $1,000.
“Consumers have been telling us about ‘bill shock’ for a long time, and we’ve been pushing for reforms to crack down on the problem. Ultimately, this is about helping people protect their pocketbooks, so we applaud the F.C.C. and the industry for this effort to do right by consumers.” said Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union.
With hope on the horizon, it is still critical to keep a close tab on your data use.