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FCC To Combat 'Bill Shock' By Making Wireless Fees More Transparent

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/20/2012 4:00 pm Updated: 04/20/2012 4:00 pm

Bill Shock

Have you ever been shocked by a sudden increase in your cell phone bill? One in six of us have, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

"Bill shock," which the FCC defines as a unexpected rise in cell phone costs, has taken a toll on 30 million Americans who have incurred extra charges either due to roaming fees or exceeding their limit of monthly minutes, text or data usage. And 88 percent of the time customers were not alerted by their carriers that they were incurring overage fees, according to the FCC.

This all might change.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a nonprofit that represents the wireless communications industry, and the FCC have asked wireless carriers to sign on to a policy that will require participating carriers to send free alerts to help users avoid average fees. According to the FCC:

In agreeing to honor the code, the carriers have committed to provide two alerts to subscribers when they are about to incur overage charges: one when they approach, and another when they exceed plan allowances for voice, data and text. Alerts will also be sent when subscribers are about to incur additional international roaming charges after their devices have registered while traveling abroad.

The alerts will go out starting October 2012.

The FCC has launched a new website to help make clear which wireless carriers have agreed to the new policy.

So far, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have committed to the policy. AT&T will alert customers regarding their data usage. Verizon will alert customers regarding their data and international roaming usage. And T-Mobile will send alerts to customers about their voice, data and international roaming charges. A number of carriers including Sprint have not yet reported their new policies to the FCC.

Have you tried to resolve a bill dispute with your carrier and failed? The FCC wants to hear from you. Call them at 888-225-5322 or log a complaint online.


Alerts or no alerts, it's important to monitor your wireless usage on your own. And if you're traveling outside your coverage zone, be mindful of roaming fees. Here are some tips to avoid paying exorbitant fees when you're traveling:

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  • Download Free Calling Applications

    All you need is a local wi-fi connection for the many downloadable applications on your computer and smartphone: <a href="https://login.skype.com/account/signup-form?application=download&return_url=http://www.skype.com/go/buy-credit?flow=join&intcmp=join" target="_hplink">Skype, </a> <a href="http://www.viber.com/" target="_hplink">Viber</a>, and <a href="http://www.whatsapp.com/" target="_hplink">WhatsApp</a> are just a few. photo by <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skype_meeting_ayvak_%26_nancyajones_2008oct16.jpg" target="_hplink">Nancy Jones</a>

  • Don't Stream Music Or Movies

    The hefty charges incurred from streaming data via your wireless network when you're outside your data roaming zone can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/john-gibson-netflix-canada-bill_n_1258190.html" target="_hplink">result in a post-vacation nightmare.</a> photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/brymo/" target="_hplink">Bryan Gosline</a>

  • Disable Cellular Auto-Check Function

    Turn off the function that makes your phone automatically update applications and receive emails. Wireless provider AT&T offers <a href="http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/en_US/pdf/Travel-Tips.pdf?source=ECV4IS0000000000U&wtExtndSource=wirelesstraveltips" target="_hplink">these instructions</a> on how to disable auto-check for different smartphone devices.

  • Turn On Airplane Mode

    Turning on this function will enable you to use the camera, video, games and music capabilities on your device without incurring charges from accidentally picking up network signals. (h/t <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/8617180/Roaming-charges-save-money-phoning-home.html" target="_hplink">The Telegraph</a>)

  • Switch Off Data Roaming

    This will disable your device from streaming data when you're outside your zone, but will still allow voice calls. AT&T provides <a href="http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/en_US/pdf/Travel-Tips.pdf?source=ECV4IS0000000000U&wtExtndSource=wirelesstraveltips" target="_hplink">instructions</a> on how to turn off data roaming functionality on smartphones.

  • Obtain A Local Phone For Another Country

    Renting a local phone might be a cost-effective option if you're making an extended trip to another country. (h/t <em><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577351824213467562.html" target="_hplink">The Wall Street Journa</a>l</em>)

  • Buy A Wi-Fi USB

    A portable wireless adaptor will allow you to create your own wi-fi connection through your computer. (h/t <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577351824213467562.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Wall Street Journal</em></a>) photo by <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Qurren" target="_hplink">Qurren</a>

  • Find An Affordable Abroad Plan

    Call your phone provider to find out different wireless package options. Some companies offer reduced rates if you change your plan before traveling. (h/t <em><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577351824213467562.html" target="_hplink">The Wall Street Journal</a></em>)

  • Get A SIM Card For Unlocked Phone

    If you can unlock your phone or buy an unlocked cell, replacing your removable SIM card to a local one will enable you to use the wireless network in another country. (h/t <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/the_middle_seat.html" target="_hplink">The Wall Street Journal</a>) photo by <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iphonesimcard.JPG" target="_hplink">Luke2511</a>

  • Don't Make Outgoing Calls

    The price of incoming calls are frequently much less than the cost of outgoing. If that's the case with your plan, ask your friends and relatives to call you while you're travelling. (h/t <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577351824213467562.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Wall Street Journal</em></a>)

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