No more bill shock?

No more bill shock?

Help keep your cell phone company honest

Published: November 2012
Verizon e-mail alert

Cell phone companies have pledged to help you avoid surprise charges on your bill.

Now we need your help to make sure they keep their promises.

First, a little background: Twenty percent of cell phone customers surveyed by Consumer Reports in 2011 had been jolted by an unexpected charge on a bill during the previous year. More than a third said the additional cost was $30 or more.

This problem is known in industry circles as "bill shock." Customers were unknowingly going over their limits on data and other services. Companies weren’t giving people good tools to keep tabs on their plans. That’s why many consumers were getting hit left and right with "surprise" charges.

The situation got so bad that the Federal Communications Commission said companies could face new regulations if they didn’t clean up their act.

A year ago, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and other wireless providers announced they had voluntarily agreed to send free e-mail or text alerts to customers before and after they were charged additional fees for data, text, voice, or international roaming.

October 2012 was the deadline for companies to begin sending at least two of the four alerts. The FCC announced all participating companies were complying, and they also look to be on track to provide all four alerts by April 2013, as agreed.

Illustration: Jason Ford

Check out your cell phone provider’s progress on our bill shock page, which features the latest information from the FCC about how companies are doing and our advice on how to avoid bill shock.

The FCC chairman singled out Consumers Union, the public-policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, for shining a light on this problem and helping find a solution. Members of the FCC reaffirmed that if companies fall short in upholding this voluntary agreement, the agency would consider imposing rules to require these notifications.

That’s where you come in. We want to hear your story. Have you experienced bill shock? Have you recently received a free alert from your company like the one shown above? Was the alert useful and easy to understand?

Please take a moment to tell us your cell phone story. And to stay on top of bill shock news, visit our website for more information.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the public-policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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