FCC Survey Finds Shock and Confusion over Mobile Billing

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A survey conducted for the FCC from April 19 to May 2, 2010, interviewed 3,005 American adults to explore how customers feel about mobile service and broadband billing practices. The results of the study illustrate that a large percentage of mobile phone customers have experienced sticker shock from a mobile service bill at some point, and are utterly confused by the carrier early termination fees (ETFs).

Many business professionals rely on smartphones to conduct business more than their traditional desk phone. In fact, a recent survey found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed would give up coffee before considering parting with their smartphone.

The predominant role of smartphones and mobile devices in business make spikes in billing and exorbitant ETFs a serious concern for IT administrators and business professionals. So, what jewels of wisdom can we glean from the FCC survey results?

• 83 percent of adult Americans have a mobile phone

• 17 percent of those with mobile phones report at one time their bill increased suddenly from one month to the next, even though they had not changed their calling or texting plans.

• 37 percent of those who have noted an unexpected spike in their bill experienced an increase of $50 or more. Nearly a quarter claim the increase was over $100

These numbers translate to one in six, or nearly 30 million Americans who claim to have experienced "bill shock". The survey also notes that--of those who have had unexpected billing increases:

• 84 percent said their carrier did not contact them when they were about to exceed their allowed minutes, text messages, or data downloads.

• 88 percent said their phone company did not contact them even after their bill suddenly increased.

The point that the FCC wants to drive home with these results is that mobile carriers and broadband providers need to be more transparent about billing practices, explain billing practices more clearly to customers, and communicate proactively with customers when unexpected billing spikes occur. I am not sure I agree that it is the carrier's responsibility.

If the carrier has in any way changed its rates, or its billing methods from what the customer agreed to when engaging in the contract to begin with, then absolutely the carrier has an obligation to communicate that and warn customers rather than blindsiding them with bill shock after the fact. However, if nothing has changed, but the customer exceeds established and agreed upon limits for data consumption, text messaging, or other services, that burden is on the customer.

The carrier can't be expected to babysit every customer and act as the fiscal responsibility police. It seems to me that carriers may want to provide usage and limit alerts as a matter of customer service and a perk to differentiate themselves from the competition, but there shouldn't be any imposition on carriers by the FCC to deliver such services. The increased availability of unlimited plans should also alleviate any bill shock since the monthly fee is already all-inclusive.

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