KGO Afternoon Interviews CFC’s Richard Holober on Proposed FCC Cell Phone Rules

by Bret Burkhart and Chris Brecher , KGO Afternoon News

Listen to KGO Afternoon’s interview of Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California regarding the FCC’s attempt to address the growing problem dubbed as cell phone "bill shock". Just click here, then click on the 6-7 PM show and the interview will begin about 15 minutes into the segment.

As reported in the San Jose Mercury News: According to the Federal Communications Commission, one in six cell phone users has endured "bill shock" of some magnitude. And the bill is often a whopper when it happens: $100 or more for two-thirds of those who complained to the FCC in the first half of this year, and upward of $1,000 for 20 percent of that group.

Now the federal agency is poised to step in with new rules to help customers avoid unexpected bills after exceeding their usage limits. Cell phone companies are crying foul, saying they already offer customers tools to monitor their voice minutes and texts, and that regulators shouldn’t dictate how they provide service.

The proposed rules, which could be approved early next year, would require wireless carriers to send customers a voice or text alert when they are about to exceed their voice, data or text limits. A similar warning would come when a user is about to incur hefty international roaming charges.

That’s what happened to Wozniak during a trip to Germany last year for a "Segway Polo" tournament. The Apple legend was hit with $7,000 in roaming charges, even though he had signed up for a generous international usage plan.

AT&T quickly reversed the charge, admitting a mistake. "I think they would’ve dealt nicely with anyone," Wozniak said in an interview last week.

But others have had to haggle for months to try to get charges reversed, and they’re not always successful. Kerfye Pierre returned home from Haiti in February after visiting her sister and helping with the relief effort. A T-Mobile representative had told her the carrier was extending courtesy cell phone usage to customers in the disaster-stricken country. But the offer didn’t extend to texts and data, which Pierre used to communicate with family back home because cell service was poor.

The tab? $34,782. Pierre couldn’t believe it. "I tried to get them to see it was an emergency," she said.

The FCC stepped in to help Pierre, and T-Mobile forgave most of the charges. But as of last week, the carrier still said she owes $4,435, according to an agency official. A T-Mobile representative said the company’s privacy policy prohibited her from commenting on individual customer accounts.

Tools vary widely

But tools for avoiding exorbitant overage fees vary by carrier, FCC officials say.

"It’s true that different carriers are taking steps in this direction," said Joel Gurin, chief of the agency’s consumer and governmental affairs bureau. "But there’s not a level of consistency that consumers can count on, and we believe there should be."

Read the entire article here.