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FCC Will Tackle Cell Phone 'Bill Shock'

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the light-in-a-sea-of-darkness dept.

Businesses 477

MexiCali59 writes "The FCC is expected to launch a proceeding at its Thursday meeting that could force wireless providers to change their billing practices. The agency wants to prevent consumers from unknowingly racking up oversized bills on their phones when they go over their minutes, a situation the agency calls 'bill shock.' The agency released a survey earlier this year that showed one in six American consumers had been surprised by a cell phone bill. The FCC's proposed rules would require carriers to send text or voice alerts before and when minutes are used up. Notifications would also have to accompany out-of-country charges, and carriers would be required to clearly disclose any tools they offer to simplify billing."

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477 comments

Or... (0, Troll)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885544)

People could pay attention to the fact that they send 500 text messages in a single day.

OR... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885574)

They could eliminate the FCC, along with the artificial scarcity of bandwidth and providers.

Re:Or... (2, Insightful)

kobaz (107760) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885592)

Or they could get a plan with unlimited texting.

"Pay us more money and we won't screw you"? (2, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885798)

I don't know if the solution to screwing customers out of their money is to force them to spend even more money as "screwing insurance". Why would it be so hard to make going over an "opt-in" instead of the default? Most major carriers won't even give you the option not to go over.

Re:"Pay us more money and we won't screw you"? (4, Interesting)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886094)

Actually, many carriers offer that option - for a fee.

Having to pay to NOT receive a service that you DON'T want to receive should be banned.

When I sign up for phone service, I should be able to set a limit on my monthly bill. If I consume services adding up to that much, they should block my service/etc, but I should not be able to accrue additional liability unless I call the provider and opt-in, setting a higher allowance for that month.

Re:Or... (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885600)

The Washington Post article [washingtonpost.com] has some additional info (but TFA linked in the summary has some the Post missed).

I was a victim of "bill shock", but it was AT&T when they bought out Cingular, not Verizon. My bill had never been over $40 and as soon as AT&T took over, WHAM... $150 bill. I dropped them and got a minute phone. I finally traded that for Boost; no bill shock there, it's a flat $50 per month no matter how much I use it.

Re:Or... (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885718)

Well did you go over minutes or textx?

Re:Or... (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885994)

Neither, I wasn't texting then (still don't except with my daughter) and wasn't talking more. They just changed the way they counted minutes. When it was Cingular, the clock didn't start until you were connected, AT&T started it as soon as you hit the green button. Cingular never rounded minutes, AT&T rounded up.

It's all moot now, my voice, text, internet, email, everything, is all unmetered. I'm also completely anonymous to the phone company; I paid cash for the phone, cash for the connection fee (no contract), pay the bill at a gas station or convenience store with cash.

They text me to inform me that my bill is due a couple of days ahead, and if I go past the due date they text me again and tell me it's shut off. As soon as I pay it, it's right back on right then.

I'm happer with them than any other carrier I've had.

Re:Or... (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886090)

Right on. I was only curious because I am guessing you had some sort of family plan since you mentioned your daughter. I was on the Cingular AT&T switch as well and my bill went from about 70 or 80 down to 60. I am guessing it was different because I was not on a family plan, but at the same time, not everybody got some huge bill from that switchover. That sucks that it happened to you. I guess I could see that situation. Now a situation where a person signs up for 400 minutes and talks for 800, that is much different. Maybe they could start shutting people's phones off when they go over if the people that go over become truly shocked when they go over their minutes. Just an idea. It would be like a bar tab that gets too high. I have been at multiple bars where if you and a group of friends are drinking and your tab gets too high, they will refuse to serve you drinks until you pay a portion of the bar tab. I am sure that other places do stuff like this as well. maybe cell phone companies can start the "your bar tab is too high" policy on people when they exceed their minutes

Re:Or... (1)

PieSquared (867490) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885768)

Yea! But sometimes you lose count, especially with several people on the same plan. If only there were some kind of notification when you reach your monthly limit...

Re:Or...versimplification (5, Insightful)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885802)

"People could pay attention to the fact that they send 500 text messages in a single day."

The problem isn't that people sometimes go over, it is that they are charged a ridiculous amount more when they do. I have a USB 3G Modem with a 5 Gig limit which I watched quite carefully. When I knowingly went over just a few hundred megabytes my bill went from $50.00 to $750.00. Now luckily, I was able to convince an upper level rep that I could have rooted my phone and tethered it, but I chose to get the 3G stick to be fair and make sure they received a reasonable amount of compensation for services provided. Until I laid this on them they absolutely were not going to budge at all. I am very much the exception, as obviously the average customer doesn't even understand what I just wrote, so they would have been just straight screwed.

This is of course ridiculous. Now I admit that I could have perused my contract more fully, but my provider has always been quite reasonable so - having a 7 year relationship with them - I trusted that my contract would also be reasonable. Also, bear in mind that most people don't grok the difference between 5 gigabytes and 300 Megabytes, so the whole "people should pay attention to the contract" argument is flatly absurd.

The bottom line? There should definately be a law against charging multiple orders of magnitude more for overages. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot pro-rate the overage at a reasonable increase (say 50%) and they absolutely count on peoples ignorance to jerk them around.

Re:Or...versimplification (2, Interesting)

Khisanth Magus (1090101) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886114)

The main times I've had "bill shock" is times when I had my phone in my pocket, it got unlocked somehow or another, and the button to open up the web browser got accidentally pressed. Then I start racking up data charges without knowing.

Re:Or...versimplification (0, Troll)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886182)

Last week called, the want your comment back.

Re:Or...versimplification (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886180)

I have a USB 3G Modem with a 5 Gig limit which I watched quite carefully. When I knowingly went over just a few hundred megabytes my bill went from $50.00 to $750.00.

As much as I hate Vodafone UK for their quality and practices, at least they got this part right: prepay. When you go over, it just stops sending you data, and everyone is happy.

Why stop there? (1, Funny)

mibe (1778804) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885568)

Can the government also mandate that someone text me when I've eaten too much or when I spend too much money at a bar?

Re:Why stop there? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885638)

Agh, how did you get your hands on the copy of Reid's omnibus bill? That wasn't even supposed to be released to Congress until a few days before it needed to be voted on.

Re:Why stop there? (3, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885684)

They're not mandating that you do anything, they're mandating that the carriers (your employer, from the tone of your post) stop stealing from me. RTFA.

Re:Why stop there? (0, Troll)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885850)

So You the customer signed a contract with the cell phone company. You agree to a certain amount of minutes at a certain rate plus additional fees should you go over those minutes. You use your phone. You go over the minutes. But when the cell phone company sends you a bill it's stealing? Don't you have the ability to track the amount of minutes as the month goes by? Even if you don't that's not exactly the cell phone companies fault as you signed up to do business with them.

Re:Why stop there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885972)

No, generally they make it as hard as possible to keep track of minutes. This is basically saying they should make it easier to keep track by sending you a notice.

Re:Why stop there? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886014)

Don't you have the ability to track the amount of minutes as the month goes by?

I've never seen a mobile phone with a built-in feature to count used minutes, other than a prepaid one.

Even if you don't that's not exactly the cell phone companies fault as you signed up to do business with them.

Are you claiming that people should do without cell phones instead?

Re:Why stop there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886164)

I used to know someone who worked on phone developement. The cell companies used to require removal of all such features before they would approve the phone for sale in their stores. This has gotten better I hear

Re:Why stop there? (4, Insightful)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886188)

So You the customer signed a contract with the cell phone company. You agree to a certain amount of minutes at a certain rate plus additional fees should you go over those minutes. You use your phone. You go over the minutes. But when the cell phone company sends you a bill it's stealing? Don't you have the ability to track the amount of minutes as the month goes by? Even if you don't that's not exactly the cell phone companies fault as you signed up to do business with them.

The customer is also probably the citizen of a democracy of some sort. In such a system, the people can participate in making laws when they feel that some actor -- corporate or natural -- is harming them. The cell phone company knew this when deciding to do business in the country. If enough citizens can demand redress for this grievance through their government, it is their right to. Can the phone company complain about this? Well, sure, but as you pointed out, they voluntarily decided to do business in the country.

Re:Why stop there? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886192)

Telecom providers are natural monopolies (or an oligopoly in this case), so regulation is perfectly fine.

Suppose you went to the only doctor in town and they asked you to sign a contract selling your firstborn into slavery, or whatever?

The contract terms are unconscionable, and there is plenty of precedent in law for setting such terms aside.

Re:Why stop there? (2, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885902)

When it becomes possible for you to accidentally eat and drink without even knowing you are doing it, they might consider that. If restaurants start making fake carrot sticks indistinguishable from the natural vegetable except that they have 9000 calories each, there WILL be a law about it.

Re:Why stop there? (0, Troll)

mibe (1778804) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885998)

I'm confused by your metaphor. When are you accidentally racking up cell phone charges? I'm aware of when I use my phone more than I'm aware of my caloric intake and - later in the night - my bar tab. I'm not sure how to translate the fake high calorie carrot sticks into something pertinent to the cell phone discussion.

Re:Why stop there? (5, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886096)

I'd rather see the government mandate a fee against people that make stupid, nonequivalent analogies.

All you can eat (4, Insightful)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885572)

I was forced to switch from one of Sprint's discontinued "Family Plans" to an everything plan in order to get a modern phone a few years ago, and now that I've got an even nicer phone that sucks down more data, I wouldn't be surprised if they discontinue this plan too. Maybe the FCC can keep things semi reasonable, instead of letting things get even worse.

HEX

Re:All you can eat (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885880)

The problem is that a government "solution" is often like a shirt that is "one size fits all", in that no one is happy. There are so many interests lobbying in D.C., that most protection laws have gigantic loopholes, and companies often find loopholes where there are none. While it is obvious that congress needs to set some basic regulation, the biggest thing they could do to reduce abuse is to encourage competition and let the market place work the way it should, in the open and on a level playing field.

Re:All you can eat (3, Interesting)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886076)

Clearly the carriers have not been motivated by the market forces to offer this kind of service so far - how would the government change that by continuing to "let the market work the way it should" ???

Re:All you can eat (2, Insightful)

Da_Biz (267075) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886100)

Intelligent markets driven by reasonable regulations IS the freest market we can muster.

For example, the Enron debacle in California was caused, in part, because of a lack of transparency pertaining to how their operated their generators. This produced congestion on transmission network paths needed to deliver power to California from the Pacific NW. IIRC, this caused prices to spike up to $1,000 per MW/hour (maybe more), when typical prices are more in the $40-80 range.

Enron accomplished this because they were able to succesfully hide from market participants their actions--and tossed out decades of generally accepted operational practice (aka "Good Utility Practice"). Ostensibly, this is NOT the Free Market that someone like Adam Smith would envision. Yes, we can't legislate every single aspect of behavior (hence, "Good Utility Practice"), but this should not diminish the supreme importance of creating sensible regulation.

Re:All you can eat (1)

Kvasio (127200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886130)

(to begin, I'd like to state that I'm pro-free market ... However,)

EU lesson was that operators are too greedy. Although there are many more mobile operators in EU (and on top of that - VMOs), they did little to keep roaming rates sane. European Commission issued a warning which did not work. Administrative cap on rates introduced two years ago was a good move for customers, while it is still high enough so operators don't lose money on your calls.

I remember that in 2000 and 2001 roaming calls from a neighboring country were in area of 0.70 USD (which was ~140% of regular rate in my country) and text messages at 0.20 USD (which was by 0.01 USD cheaper than in my country). I was amazed that after 5 years rates were twice as high. Now (after regulation) voice is again below 1 USD, but text messages are more like 0.30 USD ...

Sprint sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886068)

Sprint is the worst. I had a 3G modem with unlimited north america plan+SERO which i used to roam in canada. $75/mo, 5 gigs. i typically used 3 gigs. until 2.5 years later when i received a bill for $3000. and the next month when i got another bill for $5000. for roaming in canada. and consuming 3 gigs data. evidently they just wanted me off the service -- i took the hint and dropped sprint without paying. they later "fixed" the bill and charged me $150 for those two months. i refused to pay that too and they dropped it completely. assholes.

Great Simple Idea (2)

jtla (1725830) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885576)

This is such a simple great idea - send a text you've reached your monthly plan limit. No more guessing or having to check.

Re:Great Simple Idea (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885784)

Verizon does this. I've gotten SMS warnings that I only have NN minutes left on my plan.

Re:Great Simple Idea (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885832)

US Cellular does this, but it is optional. The consumer has the ability to get it as part of the packages.

Virgin Mobile already dunnit (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885968)

Top-up reminders are something that the prepaid carriers have been doing for years.

Re:Great Simple Idea (4, Interesting)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886134)

It's a great idea, but not easy in practice. When you're on a partner tower (say a Verizon customer roaming on a Sprint tower), Verizon may not get the bill from Sprint on those minutes until weeks later. Then, all those minutes suddenly post to your account. If they get to the point where this is all done in real time, then it would be a lot useful. But having 200 minutes used, and suddenly jumping to 400 in the course of an hour without even making a call is very possible.

Really? (0, Troll)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885596)

So are people becoming so lazy that they can't be bothered to check their used minutes, so they need the government to make sure they aren't surprised?

Re:Really? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885618)

Shut up.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885692)

The above must be a proponent of "I'm to lazy to take accountability of my own actions, so I need someone (the government) to handle it for me."

Re:Really? (1)

apparently (756613) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885738)

Yes, because the phone carriers will be so put out by this legislation. How will they ever survive!??

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885834)

You're right. Every time any company is required to do more work they don't even think about raising their rates. They just suck up all the extra time, effort, and equipment costs and not pass any of that on to their customers.

Why should I have to pay more money because someone else is too lazy to take responsibility of their own actions?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886200)

because you are irrelevant. the majority out votes you.
Why should you have to cover people on welfare ? because the majority out voted you.
 

Re:Really? (1)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885672)

I guess that could be considered a little flamish, but that wasn't my intention. I was just making the point that people can't be bothered to keep up with their usage, but they can be bothered to complain enough to get the FCC to investigate.

Re:Really? (2, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885728)

I've had all 3 of the major carriers over the years, and have yet to have easy access to a minutes check feature.

Re:Really? (3, Informative)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885786)

I know for a fact Verizon, as soon as you log in on their website, that is the first thing you see. A nice green bar if you are under, yellow if you are close, red if you are over, they also provide a link to upgrade your account if you think you need too. Very easy to use. Also, if you are on Verizon dial #MIN and you will get a nice text (free of charge) that lists all your usage. I can't speak for other carriers.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885840)

Yeah, a website definitely does not qualify as easy, particularly with my non-web-enabled phone. The #MIN thing is closer, though. I suppose I could remember that, or program it on one of my speed dials, then try to remember to check once a day or something. It sure would be nicer if I didn't have to be proactive on yet one more thing in life, though.

Re:Really? (1)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885874)

I was a default entry in my address book from Day 1 with my phone.

Re:Really? (2, Informative)

rakuen (1230808) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885974)

For AT&T, it's *646#. It even came preloaded on my phone.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885844)

I've never had a problem with at&t. #min* or whatever the code is (I don't use it) for a free txt msg. I can check their website and it's on the front page. I also have their free iphone app which shows me at a glance.

I got a free txt msg when my brother (who is on my plan) was close to using up his allocated data for the month.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886172)

Every handset I have owned has had features that count both messages and minutes.

Re:Really? (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885846)

    Over the years, I've had several phones which didn't have a provision for showing minutes used in the billing month, nor any way to check other than calling customer support and lingering on hold for a half hour and transferred twice, just to be told that they think it's a number.

    I posted another message explaining more, but I've been hit with $300 overages for things that didn't exist, like roaming with a phone that never moved an inch and had a dead battery (and 0 minutes of airtime used).

Yes, really. (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886102)

Root of the Problem (5, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885650)

Maybe I am missing something, but why doesn't the FCC go after the roots of some of these problems. For instance, can someone please explain to me why in the hell we are being charged for text messages in the first place? I mean, other than to screw us over and make a pretty penny?

Re:Root of the Problem (1, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885674)

because if they were free then spammers would come in and clog up the data channel with constant texting. since you have to pay for incomming texts it's illegal to spam you via cell

Re:Root of the Problem (2, Funny)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885730)

Oh, so all we have to do to stop spam is make it illegal? ;)

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885864)

Well, we'd kill it in short order if it cost the spammers a consequential amount of money. Imagine if they had to pay a penny per spam sent. Spam would be largely gone tomorrow at that price.

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886178)

Most spam is sent from compromised computers though, so it's unlikely the spammers would be the ones footing the bill. Unfortunately, I think educating the users will ultimately prove to be the best method to reduce spam.

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885744)

You know you can send texts to people via email right now for free, pretty much.

Re:Root of the Problem (2, Interesting)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885936)

because if they were free then spammers would come in and clog up the data channel with constant texting.

Spammers can still clog up the data channel with constant texts for free if they want to now. It's called the SMS gateway [wikipedia.org] which allows one to send SMS texts through email.

since you have to pay for incomming texts it's illegal to spam you via cell

Because spammers really care what the law says, right?

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885990)

Right, because a spammer would never contemplate buying an unlimited texting plan for 20-30/month or intentionally target devices that are likely to have these kinds of plans, right?

That we haven't had a truly successful iPhone or Symbian worm is merely luck and time will solve that problem.

$0.02USD,
-l

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886010)

Then why do we pay for both incoming and outgoing texts while in Europe they only pay for outgoing texts? Same with calling.

Re:Root of the Problem (2, Interesting)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886040)

I still get "spam" from AT&T in my SMS inbox. I don't have to pay for it but it's still spam. And why should I be paying for it anyway? Charging for OUTGOING messages always made more sense for phone calls and it makes more sense for texts too.

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886042)

That's just like how spammers come in and clog up the data channel for other text only services right now as well, right? I mean, nobody can even use e-mail anymore because of spammers. Oh wait...

Somehow ISPs and web-based e-mail companies have managed to attack the spam problem pretty effectively while still keeping their e-mail services free. In fact, the companies that have found the best solutions to filtering spam are enjoying dominant places in the e-mail market, probably in part because of their superior spam-blocking techniques (Gmail).

So, while it appears that spam can be handled perfectly without a per-send/receive fee in other technologies, the phone companies are only capable of defeating the problem by charging, what is it now? $0.20 per text to each customer. Yep, that sounds like a perfectly legitimate, non-shyster solution to me.

Re:Root of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885750)

Because people are too stupid to use existing alternatives to a new shiney technology. In the case of text messages it's called "eMail".

Phones without e-mail (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886104)

Getting e-mail on a phone ordinarily requires a data plan, which in the United States adds $720 to the cost of service over the course of a 24-month contract. Most prepaid phones in the United States tend to be dumbphones that can't do much more than talk and text and possibly shoot photos.

Re:Root of the Problem (4, Insightful)

immakiku (777365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885752)

Because the nature of the business (high barriers to entry, mainly) ensures we have a limited selection of carriers. Limited selection means less competition means less competitive practices, like charging for random "services" like text messages even if the "services" should come for free as part of the protocol.

Re:Root of the Problem (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886028)

I don't pay for text; unlimited texting (and email and internet and voice) are a flat $50 per month with my carrier. Maybe you should shop for a different provider?

How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500.00? (1, Interesting)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885666)

Have all cell phone bills max out at $500.00 PERIOD.

If you are dumb enough to go to that limit, so be it, but at least you KNOW what your maximum bill will be.

Then, you can text with reckless abandon!

Re:How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885824)

In the geek spirit I would like to be able to configure it. I don't think the phone should ever just stop working completely but it would be nice to configure notification points, max overcharge, notification on excessive usage or abnormal high rates (out of country or whatever), etc. For most people it would just default to something sane, maybe with a simple wizard with a couple default setups, and a "power" mode that lets more advanced users do more detailed configuration. There is really no reason why we shouldn't have stuff like that. Hell, somebody could start a new cell phone company that supported such modern features and probably do pretty well (would have to stay ahead of the curve though because as soon as you captured a large chunk of the market the big guys would start copying the features).

Re:How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500. (1)

athe!st (1782368) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885826)

because anything under $500 is small change...

Re:How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500. (2, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885882)

So that would be an unlimited plan, priced at $500, right?

Overpriced. Every carrier will sell you an unlimited plan for less.

Re:How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500. (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886138)

Every carrier will sell you an unlimited plan for less [than 500 USD].

Does this include unlimited international roaming?

Re:How about a maximum cell bill amount, say $500. (3, Insightful)

scrib (1277042) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886008)

I was looking for this post because I wanted to make it. :)

I was thinking that a mandatory user-definable bill-cap would a good way to go with this. The default would be set at, oh, 50% more than your no-extra-charges bill. You would have the option of raising your cap permanently or temporarily.

Your phone would just say "You have reached your pre-set spending limit. You must raise this limit before any further additional fee services will be available from this phone."

How hard is that?

text charges (1)

KevMar (471257) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885696)

And if you are traveling internationally, they will charge you international rates to receive that message.

Although that is a small price to pay. Knowing that you racked up $1,000 in charges the first day instead of $7,000 after you get back. But you know someone will complain about that $0.20 message.

Re:text charges (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885984)

Wonder how far the FCC (and EU) has their heads stuck up their arses. Yes it would be awesome if customers could get these informations real time (or close to), but most companies aren't exchanging TAP data real time, the information can be as much as 14 days delayed.

Either the governments should just revoke the carriers licenses and make telephony the way they think it should be or stay the fuck out of our business. If they think there is price fixing (EU) or unfair practices going on then deal with it through legal means.

Disclaimer I (obviously) work for a carrier.

Yes Really! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33885698)

These days it is not uncommon to have multiple phones tied to a single account that share minutes. There are husbands, wives, children etc that all share a plan and minutes. Does everyone have to continuously check minutes every time they go to make a phone call to see if everyone else has been using minutes or would it not be simpler on the whole to have the carrier who is tracking that time already down to the second send me a quick notification.

just say no (3, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885708)

I've had to do this with each of verizon, at&t, and tmobile on one occasion.

Just say you don't want to pay. Say it in person, imply you are going to jump carriers if they do not fix it. Go by during lunch or on a weekend when their store is busiest, and complain loudly enough that the other customers are going to watch them deal with your issue.

They will fix it for you, and they will be very polite and apologetic about the situation to avoid losing potential customers. I have had friends use this technique as well, and so far our attempts have a 100% success rate.

Re:just say no (1)

immakiku (777365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885838)

Out of curiosity, how do they deal with your issue?

Do they just credit you? Do they put some limit so that your phone becomes useless after it reaches the limit? Do they give you a one time credit? Do they offer an upgrade so you can avoid paying this bill?

Re:just say no (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886054)

I'm pretty sure they just had a mechanism to cancel the overage for the month. One might suspect based on the ease with which it happens that they do this pretty regularly to soothe irate customers who are risking sales.

Early termination fee (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886142)

imply you are going to jump carriers if they do not fix it

That works when the overage is less than the $350 to cancel your service.

Re:just say no (2, Insightful)

Da_Biz (267075) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886146)

This ABSOLUTELY does not work with Sprint (and precipitated my departure). After hours of being on the phone with their so-called customer service (and three defective "warranty replacement" phones in the mail), I pleaded with folks at a retail location to help. Sadly, they were absolutely powerless to help--and felt horrible. Everything had to go to a completely worthless call center...

Simplified billing (3, Interesting)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885770)

    I found one of the better solutions to "Bill Shock". Prepaid phone with unlimited minutes. My bill is my bill, and I can plan for that amount with no confusion.

    I was screwed twice by cell phone companies who were out to screw their customers. The first time, I was overcharged $300/mo for "roaming" in a city 100 miles away, even though I never left my city limits during the entire period in question.

    The second time, several years later, my phone didn't even work at a house I moved to. I left it sitting on my desk until the battery died, but I still paid the bill normally. Then I started getting overcharged $300 for "roaming". They couldn't demonstrate any calls, or even show any minutes used. I asked them to clarify how I could be roaming if the phone was dead. They couldn't give me any answer but "you need to pay..." But when the phone was working, they were kind enough to nail me with all kinds of fees for International use. Hop over the border, or even be close to it, and they can hit you for it.

    Nope, I'm done with that nonsense. No more calls if I'm a day late (and every day after that for months). If my phone gets shut off, it's because I didn't pay the normal fixed amount, and they leave me alone. I *still* get calls 5 years later about a phone I bought as a gift for someone, and my name isn't suppose to even be on the account. No, I'm not paying their phone bill, because it's not my account dammit.

Re:Simplified billing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886038)

But i bet you signed the contract when you bought this "gift phone" for a friend? You name on the dotted line implies responsibility for the line of service, the contract, and any bills, fees, overages that go unpaid. You're on the hook for this line, be glad they haven't hit your credit report with it. Or maybe they have, when was the last time you checked your credit report? you know those are free yearly too right?

You would have been better off to take that friend to the mall with you, have them pick out the phone, you pay for it, and have them sign all the paperwork.

And seriously with your 2 examples of "roaming charges" how old are these examples? I don't think any US carrier has had roaming charges other than international in the last 10 years!!

Also in your 2nd example, moving to a new location that has no coverage is a reason to terminate your contract with no ETF with most carriers, why didnt you take advantage instead paying the bill for a phone you didn't even use?

Real Time On-Screen Display (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885778)

Ideally, the screen would tell you, at all times, the number of minutes you have left on your plan. When you're on a call, this number will count down.

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (1)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885888)

like a Tracfone does?

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (0, Troll)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885896)

You must have a much larger screen than I do, because I want other info on the screen instead. You also must have either an e-Ink display or a much better battery than I, because I want my backlight off most of the time I'm on the phone.

Ideally, you would have a way to see the display you mention, not that it be there "at all times".

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886070)

What do you have on your idle screen besides the date and time, reception indicator, battery indicator, audible/vibration indicator, and lock status indicator?

My phone has neither an e-Ink display nor a huge battery. It does this neat trick where if you aren't using it, it turns the backlight off to save energy.

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (1)

mnrasul (1677458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885944)

if it is that friendly, then people would rather wait and not call unless it really was an emergency. friendly for folks and not so for the corporations. probably an excellent idea for an app.

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886196)

probably an excellent idea for an app.

Except not all phones are iPhone, Android, Symbian, or BlackBerry. Hobbyists and small businesses can't easily make and publish an app for BREW phones.

Re:Real Time On-Screen Display (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33886176)

even without carrier cooperation this shouldn't be too hard to pull off on a smartphone. Many providers have lightweight web portals that you can login to monitor usage, or numbers you can dial to get usage, for example dialing #msg# or #min# on t-mobile will return a message with your message or cellular minutes usage. write an app to query those numbers or the portal a few times a day and sync it to the phone's onboard usage timer and you should be able to keep a pretty accurate minute count.

All we ask for is a simple "opt-in",nothing more (4, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885872)

We don't want the government to decide what they can and can't charge. We just want the government to require going over to be something you have to consciously opt in to do.

My carrier won't do it. I asked them if I could block data if I have no data plan, seeing as how they made the default internet button right in the center of my phone (and it sticks out the most). They said no. I suspect most other peoples' carriers won't, either.

Re:All we ask for is a simple "opt-in",nothing mor (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886058)

AT&T is willing to turn off data on a phone if you ask. Unfortunately it disables MMS as well, though you can still get SMS.

An appropriate solution (1)

glassware (195317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885904)

Would be to require carriers who offer more than one plan to do this work for the consumers. There's no justification for playing "gotcha" every month with every consumer. Why is it your responsibility to figure out someone else's convoluted sales system? Why do we allow companies to design contracts to trip up, confuse, and overcharge consumers?

Write a law that requires all carriers, who offer more than one plan or option for phone service, to calculate your bill as it would be under each of those plans, and bill each consumer the lowest amount among those plans.

I'm 100% behind the concept of this (5, Insightful)

Da_Biz (267075) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885940)

The first comment is, to me, the most interesting response:
Sounds like we're once again legislating to save irresponsible people from their own self-destructive actions.

This response is a dramatic oversimplification of what's going on (sadly, a common occurance). What I believe the FCC is proposing is ensuring that _reasonable_ and _prudent_ laypeople can clearly understand the cost consequences of their actions. And, allowing a customer to set a reasonable price cap on their cell phone spending _increases_ accountability--for costs that match their spending ability.

For example, the cost of your garden variety LOL or ROFL missive sent via text message while roaming in Cancun (phone from Sprint [USA]) was about $1. For some, this can become frighteningly expensive. Given that European pay-as-you-go service carefully tracks (and easily reports to the user via a simple text message) their remaining credits, I fail to see why this reasonable ability isn't available to everyone.

And, as someone who has done disaster relief, I have been surprised by a few increases of $40-50 for roaming charges. I am willing to pay this--but I also desire the ability to know up front. I don't think the end user should have to carry their carrier's Terms and Conditions and rate sheet in their back pocket.

Also, some of these cell phone contracts are ludicrous: even the better ones (I like AT&T) don't do a great job clearly delineating between different types of service (for example, my unlimited SMS messaging plan doesn't include picture messaging). If I, as a person who reads contracts as a part of their job, can accidentally miss this, this circumstance doesn't bode well for an average person who doesn't do this.

Accountability requires reasonable rules and transparency--US cell contracts and bills need some help on this front.

Insane Credit (1)

esme (17526) | more than 3 years ago | (#33885982)

It's insane that cell phone companies are effectively giving people $10,000 lines of credit (I've heard of cases where international roaming charges racked up that much in a month). At the very least, there should be an option to specify a maximum amount, where service is turned off if it goes over that amount, and I have to confirm that I want to continue service and understand how much it's going to cost to go over that amount. This would handle the vast majority of cases where people go way over because of international roaming charges, bandwidth overages, sending thousands of texts, etc.

You wanna tackle Bill Shock???? (5, Interesting)

RapmasterT (787426) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886012)

How about you do something about the god damned HIDDEN CHARGES.

I'm not talking about overage minutes or text...those are clearly stated in my agreement and I'm on the hook for overages. I'm a big boy and I can pay the bills I agree to.

But SOMEHOW my cell phone bills seem to include over 20% in taxes, fees, surcharges...all that I never agreed to, was never informed of, and are not optional. How about that? How about when advertising service plan rates the cell companies be required to also report how much the government is going to tack on top of it too.

Back in the day (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886046)

this happened to me on land lines. Being a kid, I knew that I needed to use an area code to call long distance. So I figured that any number that was in my area code was not long distance. So I set about dialing every BBS in my area code. Oops.

Turns out, and I still don't understand why, that quite a few of the numbers I called were not considered local. How was I supposed to know? My dad ended up getting a bill for a couple hundred dollars.

Personally, I don't think the phone company should be allowed to charge anything without an explicit declaration of price and agreement on the part of the customer. Even on POTS. When I dial a number, *any number*, I want to be quoted a rate and given a chance to decline.

These days I just have all long distance calls from my home phone blocked. If I need to make a long distance call, I have a phone card which has a fixed rate per minute, and it tells me how many much time I have left for a call. It's simple math to get back to the per minute rate. Why can't cell phones be as convenient?

How will they make money? (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886126)

Don't subscription services with overage charges make a bulk of their money off the overages? Blockbuster's main source of revenue was late movies. If we take this away from the cell phone companies, they'll likely just raise their rates all around for everyone.

iPhone: Free!
iPhone monthly charge: $200
iPhone minute reminder fee: $5
iPhone text reminder fee: $5
iPhone data reminder fee: $5

FORCE THEM (1)

Ryanrule (1657199) | more than 3 years ago | (#33886208)

to include all fees, taxes, service charges, ect fucking ect, into the advertised price. a $40 plan with $30 a month in fees needs to die.
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