FCC Seeks Rules to Avoid $24,000 Mobile Bills

The Federal Communications Commission today sought comment on proposed regulations that would lead to wireless operators notifying cell phone users when their data usage reached a certain threshold. The rules are aimed at preventing the nightmare cell phone bills that can reach media-worthy proportions. While few people will ever get a $24,000 bill, the regulations will also help parents of overzealous texters as well as those who may get close to their data limits on wireless cards every month.

Similar rules have been enacted in Europe, where they’re known as bill shock legislation. Today the FCC released a Public Notice in which it asks:

  • Whether technological or other differences exist that would prevent wireless providers in this country from employing usage alerts similar to those now required by the EU.
  • The extent to which consumers can now monitor their wireless usage and know when they are exceeding their predetermined allocations of voice minutes, text messages, or data usage.
  • The extent to which U.S. providers are already offering such usage alerts, and the cost to the consumer or the provider.
  • Whether certain usage controls lend themselves more to one type of service (such as voice) than to another (such as data).
  • The extent to which such information can be accessed on wireless devices by people with disabilities – in particular, by people who are blind or have low vision — and what kinds of usage alerts would be most helpful to them.

If the FCC does end up requiring carriers to install software to guard against bill shock, it shouldn’t be technically challenging. The top two carriers in the U.S. have agreements, or are in talks to purchase policy management software from Bridgewater Systems (AT&T) and Camiant (Verizon). Such software will likely be used to change the way consumers are charged for mobile broadband as carriers try to match runaway mobile broadband demand to their network capacity and hoped-for profit margins. Both of those software providers also offer software so carriers can follow bill shock regulations.

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