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Study: Consumers Experience ‘Bill Shock,’ Unaware of High Cell Phone Fees

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/FCC/Transparency/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2010 – A survey released today by the Federal Communications Commission found that one in six mobile users has been surprised by their unexpectedly high cell phone bill, an experience referred to as “bill shock.”

According to the survey, of these 30 million Americans who are “shocked,” 84 percent claimed their mobile carrier did not alert them that they were about to go over their limits on minutes, text messages and data downloads.

Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, said the message from this survey is that people still don’t know what they should in order to manage fees and billing issues.

The survey revealed that almost half of users who have plans with early termination fees aren't aware of the fees they will be charged should they terminate their plan.

The survey also found that only 36 percent of cell phone customers who are familiar with their bills said that the bills include “very clear” information on early termination fees. These fees are one factor the survey says can keep customers from switching mobile carriers, even if service is not ideal.

The FCC is concerned that only 58 percent of cell users in the survey said they were very satisfied with the number of places they can get a good signal.

Gurin said he was concerned about how widespread the lack of information is, but he couldn’t say whether rulemaking or voluntary legislation of this issue was the best way to handle this problem.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said: “There is still more that can be done to help customers navigate what is sometimes a confusing marketplace.”

The survey also found that more than one-third of those people said their bills increased by at least $50, and 23 percent said the increase was $100 or more.

“As we know from our consumer complaint center, even an unexpected charge of $20 or $30 can make a difference to many people," said Gurin. "Several carriers are taking steps to make their fees and billing more transparent, and we would like this to become a universal practice. We’re confident that we will be able to work with both wireless carriers and public interest groups to help consumers avoid these unwelcome surprises.”

The survey, conducted by Abt/SRBI and Princeton Survey Research Associates International from April 19 to May 2, 2010, interviewed 3,005 American adults.

David Cup is working at through an internship with the National Journalism Center. A student at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, he is pursuing the majors of Political Science and Journalism. He has worked on his school yearbook and written for the Franciscan Sports Information Department.

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