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Federal ruling asks wireless companies warn their customers of extra charges

While some consumer groups are shaking their heads at yesterday’s Federal Communications Commission decision to encourage but not force wireless companies to be more forthright with extra usage fees, the senator who tried to reign in the industry isn’t crying defeat.

An e-mail from Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) staff sent to the New Mexico Independent read, “The big picture here is that this never would have happened without Sen. Udall’s advocacy on behalf on consumers on this issue.

“And an agreement between the FCC and the wireless companies is extremely encouraging news.”

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), the main trade group representing wireless and data companies, collaborated with the FCC ahead of yesterday’s announcement. CTIA sent a memo to its members yesterday on how to comply.

The e-mail from Sen. Udall’s staff followed an article NMI wrote on the ruling yesterday. More news coverage of the decision from others news outlets came out today

Wireless service companies are being asked by the FCC to warn customers when they will begin incurring extra costs for going over their allotments for data and phone minutes.

The request is voluntary and stops short of legislation proposed last year by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would have made data and wireless phone companies legally responsible for warning customers of incoming fees.

A recent FCC report noted 30 million Americans suffer “bill shock” — defined by the federal body as a “sudden and unexpected increase in a mobile wireless user’s monthly bill that is not caused by a change in service plans.”

At a Brookings Institution event yesterday FCC chairperson Julius Genachowski said he encountered consumers who endured $34,000 and $18,000 in single monthly bills without prior warning from their cell phone companies.

In some cases, the bills are much higher, but data companies are willing to compromise.

Daniel Watson, a spokesperson for the senator, said given the intransigence of Congress, representative government is still possible through other avenues. “A lot of people have been impacted by bill shock, and Sen. Udall’s bill helped bring that to national attention with a straightforward solution for wireless companies.”

Asked by NMI whether Sen. Udall’s bill would reach the president’s desk, Watson said, “It would take a crystal ball to determine which bills will make it to the President in the current congressional climate.”

The FCC has five members who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. The current chairperson, Genachowski, was appointed by President Obama after a career in the tech space. He also clerked for liberal Supreme Court justices Justice David Souter and Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

The FCC currently has four sitting members, with two appointed by the previous Republican administration.

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