FCC Wants to Know Why Verizon Increased Termination Fees

Updated with Verizon’s response: The Federal Communications Commission wants to know why Verizon (s vz) decided to double its early termination fee (ETF) for new customers who sign on to the wireless service using advanced devices…longhand for smartphones. The FCC today sent a letter to Verizon Wireless seeking answers.

The FCC correctly questions Verizon Wireless about its policies and when the answers come back, I bet they’ll remove a thick fog of obtuseness in which Verizon and its brethren cloak their service. The whole ETF is a mess worse than European soccer these days. The FCC, in a roundabout way, is asking Verizon to clean up its act around ETF. (Full questionnaire in PDF form is on the FCC web site.)

The FCC also wants to know if Verizon charges $1.99 “for inadvertently accessing Verizon Wireless’s Mobile Web” and if so, why. The commission wants to know if there’s a “a minimum data amount or level of access that triggers charges, and if so, what is that amount or level?” And it wants to know if some of Verizon’s phones have keys that are pre-programmed for one-click access to the mobile web.

These issues were brought up in the press and many Verizon customers have been complaining about such clearly murky tactics. No wonder people have no love for their phone companies.

Being a Verizon customer, I have an unlimited plan for everything and so far, I haven’t been overcharged. However, others don’t have that luxury. Either way, I think the FCC is right to push for answers. If the new FCC makes these service providers more transparent in how they charge consumers for services, I would say it is job well done.

Update Verizon Wireless spokesperson emailed us the company response:

We fight day-in, day-out to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations. We do that by constantly improving how we do business.

Our declining early termination fee, or ETF, makes it possible for a broad array of Americans who might not otherwise be able to afford broadband connections to be active participants in the online world. Too many people still can’t afford to buy a PC for Internet access, and a subsidized handset option can be a great option.

Nobody is required to pay an ETF.  You always have the choice of buying a mobile phone at full price with no ETF. Or you can buy a device at a discount with a 1- or 2-year contract.  If you stay with your contract, you don’t pay a fee at all.

We’ve heard from very few customers who accidentally accessed their web browsers, and we immediately credited them $1.99 per month for the problem. A few months ago we modified our service plans so when somebody accidentally turns on a data service they don’t want, and they quickly turn that service off, there’s no charge.  Even if this happens a few times a month, there shouldn’t be a charge on the bills.