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FCC Plans To Stop Cell Phone Bill Mystery Fees

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the eight-dollars-for-occupying-a-transmission-medium dept.

Cellphones 157

GovTechGuy writes "FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Monday that his agency is going to make it harder for mobile carriers to hit customers with mystery fees on their monthly bills. The practice, known as 'cramming,' typically involves charging customers between $1.99 and $19.99 per month for services they either didn't use or didn't request. The FCC announced fines totaling nearly $12 million against four carriers for cramming last week."

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Well done. (3, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506636)

A co-worker has been vocal about this practice. Makes me all the more smug with my el-cheapo pay-as-you-go program.

Re:Well done. (5, Informative)

ep32g79 (538056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506766)

The four companies that were smacked with this fine are:

Main Street Telephone for $4,200,000
VoiceNet Telephone, LLC for $3,000,000
Cheap2Dial Telephone, LLC for $3,000,000
Norristown Telephone, LLC for $1,500,000

Looks like either the majors are not engaging in this practice or too large of Goliaths for the FTC to consider throwing stones at.

Re:Well done. (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507168)

Looks like either the majors are not engaging in this practice or too large of Goliaths for the FTC to consider throwing stones at.

Or they're practicing on the easy targets before gearing up to the tougher ones.

Re:Well done. (2)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507962)

Nope. The majors do it. They just talk to the FCC and define the term, then get the lawyers to come as close to the FCC rules without breaking them as possible. Then they run them past the FCC again to make sure they don't break the rules, then implement them. They are doing the practice of cramming without breaking the rules against cramming.

Now, if only they required that the plans be advertised with the appropriate fees included. When they advertise a $29.99 plan, you should be able to give them $30 every month for that plan with change back.

Re:Well done. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507042)

What do you (or slashdot in general) recommend? Assuming I will not sign a contract, use SMS or other data, or purchase minutes that expire, what are my options?

I ask here, because all the information on Google is from someone selling something. If I'm on the phone half an hour a month TOPS, what's a good cheap utilitarian service?

Re:Well done. (2)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507256)

Assuming I will not sign a contract... or purchase minutes that expire, ...what's a good cheap utilitarian service?

USPS?

I can't think of any telco, wireless or otherwise, who doesn't fail at least one of those three conditions. At least not in my country.

Re:Well done. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507592)

My land line does not require a contract, local calling is unlimited. It's not quite cheap, given how little I use it but could be a bargain for a heavy user.

For long distance I have a calling card that doesn't require a contract. I put a bunch of minutes on it 5 years ago, and still have most of them. It was cheap enough that I don't remember what I paid for it.

I'd like a cell phone that I can use with as few strings as these options. Don't see any good reason why it shouldn't exist.

Re:Well done. (2)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508222)

local calling is unlimited.

But they also expire each month. You're ignoring the fact that you're buying a different type of service for a land line than you are for a wireless option.

There are providers, at least locally, that will be happy to provider you with unlimited * for your wireless device for $100 a month, no extra fees, send them $100, your phone works for any domestic call, data access or texting.

Of course, since you're paying for unlimited, you pay a lot more since its wireless and it has no competition. Your home service exists as it does today because everyone moved to cell phones, meaning land lines could no longer charge extra for shit that didn't cost them. They had to drop their prices to keep the infrastructure in use, and the result is that phone bills for land lines dropped an order of magnitude across the nation as the bills adjusted down to reflect the actual cost of the service provided (because they were no longer the sole supplier, thus the demand for that service dropped).

You'll get more places offering the options you seek when we get more cellular providers, not before then. As long as a few major carriers are the only ones with the money to build the infrastructure (lets ignore the fact that your tax dollars paid for that infrastructure due to government grants as well for the moment), you won't have competition, and the wireless industry will stay exactly like it is.

Fortunately, the wireless industry has one major problem. Like it or not, there is a lot of spectrum out there that can't be monopolized like the standard cellular bands are now, and as technology progresses and it becomes easier and easier for hardware to work on multiple frequency ranges at the same time, we'll see some inventive sole doing something like providing phone services in TV whitespace when possible, 4G when available, ect.

Eventually, technology will allow someone to break the monopoly, until then, you're going to have to look at second rate, fly by night, ghetto wireless providers who typically deal with people who have financial difficulties or credit problems. The up side to that is you'll find a lot of those services aren't priced horribly, and if you get REALLY lucky, you'll find one of those services that actually is good (some of them are, Cricket here actually does better than most of the local providers for coverage even though they are just piggy backing on the other towers (don't ask me how it manages for them to get better coverage, they seem to be able to bend the laws of physics here). The some how manage to keep connections in areas where other providers drop them. I'd jump ship to them in a heart beat, but I don't really need unlimited and I'm well out of contract already anyway, so I'd rather just keep whoring myself out to AT&T to keep visual voicemail until (hopefully) visual voicemail isn't limited to a couple providers.

Re:Well done. (3, Insightful)

kermidge (2221646) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507702)

I've been using Net10 since summer '06. Ten cents per minute, no roaming charge, no long-distance charge. So long as you keep your account active, minutes roll over forever. Phones are available from around $20 on up. I got my first one at Walgreen's. I suggest checking at net10.com for phones available in your Zip-code.

They now have two types of plans - for your usage, avoid the per month plans, get straight minutes. For $60 you get 900 minutes - a nice bonus. From time to time they have various web specials as well. Or you can buy minutes at prepaidonline.com or various drug and department stores and phone stores.

I've never had a dropped call and cannot remember having a bad connection (in south-east Wisconsin.) YMMV.

Virgin Mobile (2)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507734)

They have droid phones and everything down to cheap flip phones without a camera. $25 a month gets you 300 talk minutes and "unlimited" text/data without a contract. The best part is no hidden fees tacked onto that $25, just sales tax. Virgin uses the Sprint network so coverage is decent.

Re:Well done. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507880)

One of the best options for the past 5 years or so would have been the T-mobile prepaid. Of course with the deathstar buying them out, there's no guarantee that sticks around.

If you're going to be keeping the plan for awhile (and believe AT&T will let you), you may want to buy 1000 minutes ($100) upfront, this gets your plan in the "gold rewards" program which gets you 15% more minutes per refill, and 1 year instead of 90 days expiration. A year later, grab $50 worth (460 minutes including the 15%), which will keep you for another year.

Now of course you won't get through the 1000 minutes in 1 year unless you use >80 minutes per month, so you could go with the $25/130 minute option every 90 days, and then after a year ($100 total) you get on the gold rewards program anyway, and from there buy minutes as you need them ($50/year should do). This costs the same ultimately, and you spread the payments out over time, so slightly preferable financially, but it does put you at some risk of having to buy more minutes --- and then it becomes more expensive. But if you're really sure about your 30 minute usage level, this is what you want.

Either way, after the first year, you pay for minutes & you have a year to use them; get as close to 1 years' worth as you can since they're cheaper in quantity, but don't go way over.

As far as not "purchasing minutes that expire", it's kinda dodgy -- most if not all prepaid accounts require a payment every 90 or 180 days to keep the account active, whether the minutes "expire" or your account "lapses", you still have to buy minutes periodically whether you used them or not. There's a slight difference in that one way you wind up with an enormous surplus of minutes after a while, but you're still paying the same. I'm not aware of any plan where I can load up, say, 1200 minutes, and use 20 minutes a month for the next 5 years without paying anything -- if I could find such a plan, I'd have a couple SIMs loaded up just that way laying around in cheap phones in case I need them.

Re:Well done. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508606)

Actually, once you spend $100 once, you only need to buy $10 of minutes a year to keep your T-mo To Go account alive. If you do so, the minutes never expire.

Re:I Recommend GoPhone (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508252)

$100 GoPhone.

I managed to get my iPhone to work on it, so it's all the "Apple Goodness" of the iPhone but without the nasty contract. I'll skate by your rules and say that the point of the $100 level is that the minutes last for a whole year. Very roughly converting "per call" rates vs your "half hour per month", it's a dead heat that the plan will last you exactly one year.

Plus you can relive the cheesetastic Meatloaf commercial.

Re:Well done. (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508496)

I have a pre-paid Verizon phone, costs 15 bucks a month. In general, I only carry it because I'm on call every fourth week. Rarely, I actually make a telephone call during "business hours", and I get zapped for 99 cents, or whatever. I think it's a pretty good deal, because it's always available for an emergency. Someone lacking in self restraint, who responds to SMS messages, and makes frivolous phone calls would end up paying a lot more than that basic $15.

Effective, I'm sure. (4, Insightful)

Sierran (155611) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506658)

Let's see. $12 million in fines, total, eh? Verizon Wireless at the end of 2009 had around 90 million subscribers. Cram a $0.99 charge onto each, take into account the fines, and...yes, profit!

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506720)

Exactly. Make that $5,000*customers*infractions and you're closer to what's needed to stop this instantly.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (4, Insightful)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506922)

nah. Hit the CEO's wallets for the fines. They can afford it and they'd sure as hell get a damn clue. Expand this across the board and companies would be a lot more carefull and if there is a 2nd violation, include the Board of Directors in the fines.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506752)

$12 million in fines, and $100 million in bad press. But then bad press doesn't seem to hurt Verizon...

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506858)

What are you going to do? Switch to the other carrier that does the same damn thing?

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (2)

cos(0) (455098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506886)

Prepaid.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507012)

Prepaid isn't immune to cramming. When you fork out $20 for prepaid, you can actually call for how much of that?
When they say x.xx cents per minute, that's not including the y.yy cents per minute operator fee, taxes, the connection fee, the busy fee, the not-making-any-calls-for-x-days surcharge, the wind blows from the south fee, and all the other fees.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

cos(0) (455098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507184)

Not sure what you are talking about. Take me as an example. I use Virgin Mobile's $25/mo plan. No contract. This gives me "unlimited" 3G data, unlimited SMS, and 300 minutes/mo. If I go over my minutes, I pay 10 cents/minute, or I can renew my billing cycle anytime. I never see any of the fees you mention.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507624)

Most of the fees are subtracted from your minutes.
The biggest fee is the (depending on plan) all-your-remaining-minutes-belong-to-us fee applied at the end of each month or all-your-top-off-minutes-incur-a-100%-charge-after-30-days fee, but there are plenty of others fees too, including the listening-to-voicemail fee, we-round-up-and-charge-you-the-remainder fee, and the checking-your-balance-more-than-five-times-in-one-day fee. Oh, and try making an international call, and see what happens. You get deducted minutes not only for the calling time, but for connecting too.

Then there's the regular government surcharges, of course: http://web.virginmobileusa.com/help/plans/paygo/surcharges [virginmobileusa.com]

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508238)

And every call you make costs you an additional dollar worth of minutes, connected or not. And checking your voice mail costs you. And incoming calls if answered cost an additional $1 plus minutes.

Just because you haven't REALIZED you're getting raped doesn't mean you aren't getting raped.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

cos(0) (455098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508360)

What the hell are you going on about. That's not how Virgin Mobile works.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508792)

Prepaid isn't immune to cramming. When you fork out $20 for prepaid, you can actually call for how much of that?
When they say x.xx cents per minute, that's not including the y.yy cents per minute operator fee, taxes, the connection fee, the busy fee, the not-making-any-calls-for-x-days surcharge, the wind blows from the south fee, and all the other fees.

You don't know what you are talking about.

ATT & Verizon prepaid is expensive look at MVNOs. They will save you a TON of money without any mystery fees or taxes. Everything is upfront. Most people are overpaying for their cell phone bills because they aren't willing to calculate their actual usage and want a "Free Phone". Everyone who I have convinced to switch (including all my family & friends) from their monthly plans to a prepaid provider is saving $50-$200 monthly on their cell phone bills, many are using smartphones.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507074)

I'm pretty sure they make more profit on pre-paid. Pay-monthly is preferred by the networks only because the income is more predictable.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

cos(0) (455098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507160)

According to earnings calls, profit margins are higher (by a lot!) on post-paid than on pre-paid.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506960)

Let's see. $12 million in fines, total, eh? Verizon Wireless at the end of 2009 had around 90 million subscribers. Cram a $0.99 charge onto each, take into account the fines, and...yes, profit!

Except that Verizon wasn't one of the four companies that were fined. Verizon can afford to buy their own politicians, and almost routinely steamrolls FCC.

Re:Effective, I'm sure. (3, Interesting)

StormReaver (59959) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507514)

Let's see:

1) Go into a grocery store and steal a $2 candy bar: 30 days shock time in jail.

2) Steal 90 million dollars, and pay a 13% tax on the stolen money.

I know which kind of criminal I want to become.

jail (4, Insightful)

ThurstonMoore (605470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506670)

The fines will mean nothing if the carriers make more money than what the fines cost. They need to put some people in jail and this shit would stop.

Re:jail (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506750)

Not people. The CEO. Even for 1 day per crammed customer/month would put a halt to it licketysplit.

Re:jail (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506778)

Don't be so sure. People can still make money while sitting around doing nothing in jail.

Re:jail (2)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507020)

Sure, but CEO's are use to living in a magical bubble where they are above everyone else. A single day in a concrete cube, and they're going to get very pissed, and will do everything in their power to get back to their yachts and vineyards.

Re:jail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36506756)

But . . . but . . . isn't that excessive government regulation and Teh Socialism?

Re:jail (4, Insightful)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507584)

No. Capitalism only works properly when all parties have equal knowledge of the area they are exchanging value over. Such as exchanging $1/lb for these apples, I know what $1 is, I know how many pounds of apples I'm buying (if the scales are rigged, this is not-equal knowledge), and I know what apples are/taste like/contribute toward my health. Similarly, the vendor knows all of this as well. I am accepting the veracity of the apples, he is accepting the veracity of the cash as a representation of value, and both can use the government as an enforcer of the same (e.g., vs rigged scales, rotten apples, fake money).

This is not Teh Socialism. This is Teh Justice in pursuit of Teh True Capitalism. Buyer beware only applies if you should have known better, not when you were intentionally deceived. Teh Socialism would be if the government wasn't merely trying to stop deception in the marketplace but also regulating the cell carriers' rates.

Re:jail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508004)

I was being sarcastic. My point was that there are huge groups of people in the U.S. who have no idea what socialism is but scream the term any time anyone even thinks of having the government involved with anything.

Re:jail (1)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506894)

Or just double the fine every year it's not fixed.

Re:jail (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506942)

That's still cheap, you need a fine and them to pay back all of it. Then start raising the fine as they try to not give the money back.

Re:jail (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506948)

Or just double the fine every month it's not fixed.

FTFY.. Year is too long - it would take a nearly a decade for it to reach the billions if done by the year. Do it by the month, and the problem is solved by 2012.

Or make the fine relative to the amount crammed - if a company gets $100m by doing it, fine them $200m. If they only cram $10k, fine them $20k.

Re:jail (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507076)

They'll just add a surcharge to cover the fine.

Re:jail (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507432)

If the fine is big enough (25% of the guilty company's annual revenue would be perfect, IMHO), the surcharge would be a mother to slip under the radar.

Let's say that Verizon got busted for it. They get fined, say, $15bn - payable (to the last penny) within 120 days, else the fine doubles and/or the company charter is revoked, and it effectively gets its assets sold on the auction block. The figure effectively cuts Verizon's *revenue* by 25% (2010 shows ~$13bn/quarter), and their profits will likely evaporate.

Meanwhile, the other biggies will still keep their rates the same, if only to attract cross-over customers and avoid getting pimp-slapped in a similar manner.

Also, since that new surcharge materially changes the contract, every subscriber could leave within 90 days w/o paying an ETF.

Re:jail (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507034)

Or easier, the fines should just factor in the exact profit they made. Get an independent or government party to examine the billing records - at the telco's expense - then fine them the profits they made plus the punitive damages.

Even if they were to lose all the money, in a business sense it would be more like a loan. There has to be a significant negative downside. Factoring in the money they made along with the fine would probably be a pretty good way to do things.

Re:jail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508224)

Get an independent or government party...

...who can easily be bought -.-

Re:jail (1)

ThurstonMoore (605470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508698)

I wanted to add fines mean nothing to companies. Here in coal county it is cheaper to dump the slurry into streams and rivers then pay the fines than it is to clean the shit up properly.

Finally (2)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506686)

This is one of the major issues that has caused most of my family and those I advise on cell phone purchases to go with pay as you go phones. As the one holdout who needs a smartphone with major (asshole) network support I've grown so sick of the unknown and seemingly random small fees attached to my monthly bills. The scam is not only the fees themselves, but the god-awful wait time by most providers when it comes to waiting on hold to reach the provider and question or dispute a charge. They know damn well that for $1.99 a month most people won't tolerate being on hold for 15+ minutes and thus use it as a quick way to yet again fuck us over. Yet another reason to hate the U.S. cell phone industry with a passion. If the FCC is serious about this all I can say is suck it telecos.

Re:Finally (3, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506794)

Agreed. Can I move to a 3rd world country with a real cell phone system please? (This is not a joke. Every 2nd and 3rd world country I have been to has a cell phone system worlds better than the US.)

Re:Finally (2)

spectro (80839) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506908)

I got an smartphone with pay as you go service. Just bought an HTC myTouch from newegg for around $180 and put my AT&T gophone card on it. Works fine.

Now if you use lots of data you will get raped with their pay as you go rates. In my case I use all these free wifi spots all over and complement it by buying 10Mb for $5 every 30 days or so.

Re:Finally (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507062)

On the flip side, at $0.50 per megabyte, the equivalent of the 2 GB AT&T iPhone plan would cost you a grand a month....

12 Million? Slap on the wrist... (1)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506690)

Given the rampant and pervasive monopolistic practices of the soon to be 2 carriers, I just can't get that excited about such a small fine. Such intentional fraud should result in jail time for whoever authorized such actions.

now when am I going to stop being charged for people sending me spam SMS messages? I see that issue as a sure sign that the FCC is fully captured by the industry, and small fines like this are just window dressing to keep the irate masses at bay.

Re:12 Million? Slap on the wrist... (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506822)

now when am I going to stop being charged for people sending me spam SMS messages?

When you pay them $10 a month to turn off the service. Hell of a deal. I am going to get the neighbor kid to pay me $10 a month to not punch him in the face.

Re:12 Million? Slap on the wrist... (1)

LoverOfJoy (820058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506860)

yeah, 12 Billion is more like it. I'm not sure that is even enough.

Happens in Canada too, but authorities do little (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506700)

In Canada, there are this 'CRTC fee', '9-1-1 fee' and 'system access' fee. Canucks have no way out with only a bundle of national operators that could foster competition.

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (2)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506780)

Those fees aren't the mystery fees being described here. Those fees are legal and described in advance.

If you don't get charged the 911 fee, you've got lucky somehow.

These are fees for services you didn't even want [fcc.gov] or sign up for.

As a slightly different example here, our corporate cell phone bills frequently have charges for calls to our my-5 numbers. We read through the bills every month and call to complain about those. Almost every month they try to bill us for calls that their own service claims are free, which they apologize for on the phone profusely of course.

I might add, I don't understand people who pay their bills without reading them.

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (2)

hidannik (1085061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506882)

Because most businesses are not in the habit of defrauding their customers.

Hans

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507010)

Everyone makes mistakes. Assuming there will be no mistakes is at your own peril.

I read all my bills; it only takes a few minutes.

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507468)

If "everyone makes mistakes" is true, then on the average, you should sometimes underpay and sometimes overpay. Since underpayment does not ever seem to be an issue, I have to classify these charges as "not a mistake" and instead as "a deliberate act to try to get customers to pay for something they did not use".

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36506912)

Described in advance? Are you kidding? Before I bought my phone, I tried to get any sort of ballpark estimation or description of exactly these sorts of taxes and fees, and neither AT&T nor Verizon could do it.

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507338)

I might add, I don't understand people who pay their bills without reading them.

My guess... those people value their free time more highly than however much their utility companies are likely to overcharge them. If the charges are too high, they just don't pay it.

Re:Happens in Canada too, but authorities do littl (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508772)

ctrc fee was gone many years ago, and telcos got sued for ~2 billion before they stopped this in Canada. if they are still charging this "system access fee" (was also banned as false) iirc, etc, you should speak to a lawyer asap, don't even talk to them until you do.

wonder if they are still charging some users that don't know about this. somehow, it would not surprise me

How about the mystery taxes? (1, Insightful)

varargs (2260180) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506710)

Doesn't the gvmt still have a $6/month Algore fee to "wire inner city classes to internet?"

Re:How about the mystery taxes? (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506738)

True, but he invented the internet and therefore he's entitled to the money.

Its a start (3, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506770)

Now if they can stop bandwidth overage charges, ( or remove caps completely ) and force everyone to be compatible with each other like it was with wired phone, so you can keep your phone...

Re:Its a start (0)

Revotron (1115029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506920)

Force everyone to be compatible?

*Mandate* that all carriers use a specific cell technology or implementation, and have absolutely no alternatives? Yeah. That's going to be just swell.

In all seriousness, for the sake of technological innovation and advancement, something like that shouldn't be a government order. It should be mutually agreed upon by a consortium of cellular companies and vendors. Government regulation, especially in an industry with two very strong competing products (GSM and CDMA), never works out very well.

Re:Its a start (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507000)

I'd be interested to know how it was handled in other countries, which generally have both internally and internationally compatible systems, lower prices, and better service than can be found from the US carriers. Yes, population density is part of the issue, but the cost to build the number of extra towers per capita in the States isn't enough to account for the extent to which the telcos lie, cheat, and gouge their customers in comparison to (most of) the rest of the world.

Re:Its a start (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508334)

I live in America, use my cell phone daily and have travelled to Europe with it and never missed a beat.

Of course, my phone is a multiband GSM phone and not from of the carriers that still using something other than the rest of the world.

On of the reason I won't use Verizon is because I want my phone to work outside of the US, not because I do much travel outside the states (about 3 times in my life) but because I don't want to support someone who doesn't put effort into compatibility.

Re:Its a start (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507098)

Well, i do agree it should have been done via mutual agreement, for the consumers benefit. But they didn't, and wont, so that is when the government must step in.

I'm not a fan of government intervention into our lives or commerce, but their job is to protect us and i would say mandating compatibility would fall under that scope.

Re:Its a start (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507950)

Solution: Pass a law that gives them a short but reasonable amount of time to agree on a standard and then give them a reasonable amount of time to make the transition. The stick is that if they don't, then a standard will be thrust upon them.

They will be perfectly free to update the standard in the future as long as they can do so in agreement.

Re:Its a start (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508344)

I would simply mandate that all phones sold after a certain date be compatible with the top 4(?) carriers, and either come unlocked, or be unlocked on request free of charge. Then make the phone subsidy transparent, and actually relate to the buyout cost of the plan, and drop off monthly billing when subsidy is paid off. In 2011, there is no longer technical problems to this.

Re:Its a start (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508372)

Force everyone to be compatible?

*Mandate* that all carriers use a specific cell technology or implementation, and have absolutely no alternatives? Yeah. That's going to be just swell.

Yes, EXACTLY.

That doesn't prevent progress, it doesnt prevent new technology, it doesn't prevent competition, it just requires that everyone be on the same page.

It'll work out JUST fine as long as it was put in place and put the entire brunt of the pressure on the providers and not back down when they do their best to make it fail from the start.

It won't fail, the providers won't let it, they wont' throw away all that money just because they want to 'lock people in', the major carriers lose and gain from each other pretty much equally in general, even with all the bullshit they do to prevent it. Its not like people run from AT&T to T-Mobile because their phone will work there, most assume it won't so switching from AT&T to T-Mobile is no more attractive than switching to Verizon ... of course, this is all because phones are locked to a fucking provider, even after the contract expires.

But, back to the point, rather than go out of business, verizon, at&t/mabell/tmobile, and all the rest would get with the program and make it work.

They'd kick and scream and tell us it was impossible ... RIGHT UP to the point where customers started switching to something else ... which is a major risk, as we may just find something completely better than the current carriers and dump them all together even if they change their minds and started putting effort into serving their customers.

We can control them, stop being such a pussy. The only reason it wouldn't work is because we let them tell us no. We won't of course, the instant gratification of cell phones pretty much has them in complete and total control til the end of human civilization or until someone else finds another fad for the idiots.

prepaid (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506848)

would like to see new rules mandating prepaid data plans be offered at rates competitive with contract rates for anyone who has purchased their phone outright or who's contract period is ended. (and requiring phones be offered unsubsidized/unlocked at any place selling the phone subsidized)

Re:prepaid (3, Insightful)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506946)

Carriers have obscured cell phone (the physical device) payments with cell phone services. How this came about still boggles my mind, almost like bundling a gas card with your car payment and not being able to find out how much the car even costs. The two should be separate, and the current high fee for cancellation should be deemed illegal. You either pay through the nose month-month, or you risk 2 years of hell dealing with a contract for awful service with a $350+ termination fee looming.

Re:prepaid (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508020)

The two should be separate, and the current high fee for cancellation should be deemed illegal.

Most are. But there's nothing wrong with purposefully drawing up an illegal contract (why else do you think severability is required in every contract? They know they are putting in at least one illegal clause). It's simply illegal to have a $300 cancellation fee for a 24 month contract. That's been challenged in court multiple times and the excessive fee has lost many times.

Re:prepaid (1)

keithki (1968898) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508820)

HIdden fees is nothing new. Companies will not be the ones that pay the fines, but the consumers when they raise the rates to cover the fines or simply take them out of dividend checks for share holders. CEO's will continue on with business as usual while subscribers continue to pay hidden fees and now cover the fine costs. I thought that legislation went into effect last years that pro-rated cancellation fees so that your cancellation costs decreased as your contract grew closer to your end date? I am nearly certain of it, but would have to look up the exact bill number.

jail time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36506850)

They need to start offering large rewards (millions of dollars) and whistleblower protections for anyone who can offer proof of dishonest business practices and make sure mandatory jail time is included for those found guilty.

I suspect it wouldn't take long for a large number of corporate execs to end up in jail. That and there would be a few wealthier email admins.

Now if only.... (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506854)

... they could also get providers to undertstand the difference between zero point zero two dollars and zero point zero two cents....

I ain't holding my breath.

The problem is not "transparency". (5, Insightful)

mrsam (12205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36506916)

From TFA:

the proposed steps would increase transparency and make it easier for consumers to understand the meaning of charges on their monthly phone bills.

BS. Sheer nonsense. The problem is not that the bills are hard to "understand". The problem is the cramming in the first place. Remove the ability for any arbitrary fly-by-night op to place charges on anyone's bill, if they know their phone number, and the problem will mysteriously disappear.

Cramming takes advantage of social engineering. "Wanna a HOT NEW LADY GAGA ringtone!!!! Just type in your phone number on our web site. (tiny font: $9.99 per month charge applies)".

And that's how a "simple-minded" acquaintenance of mine ended up with $40 bucks worth of charges on her bill, some years ago.

Get rid of the ability for anyone to cram charges, without a written notice by YOU, to YOUR cellphone carrier, and there's no more cramming. Of course, the cell-phone carriers will fight tooth and nail. I'm sure they make a nice profit skimming off their share of all the crammed charges.

Re:The problem is not "transparency". (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36506990)

That's not cramming, that's scamming. And by entering your phone number on their site, you're essentially authorizing the charges.

Cramming is when, as described in the article, your carrier adds bogus charges to your account. Now, we can sit here & debate whether or not the carriers themselves are behind the scamming sites, but that's not the point.

Re:The problem is not "transparency". (2)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507510)

Well, that is a simple matter of making the cell phone companies adhere to the same rigorous rules as the credit card companies, whose exact service they are duplicating without the liability of being regulated. Once the cell companies are required to adhere to those rules, they will have to investigate questionable charges at great expense, and will stop partnering together with third party shysters who give them 1/3 of the booty.

But government regulation is eeeevil! (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36506926)

Hello:

As a foreigner i'd like to point that you fellow USians are pretty inconsistent.
Isn't guuvernmeeent regulation evil?
What about "let the market sort it out"
etc, etc

Please explain

Best Regards

AC because i don't post here often enough to justify an account...

Re:But government regulation is eeeevil! (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507082)

As an American, I'd like to point out that you don't seem to know what the word "fellow" means when used as an adjective.

Re:But government regulation is eeeevil! (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507530)

Government regulation would not be required if we would just stand up for our rights as consumers and refuse to buy the services, however, we convince ourselves that we "need" to have a cell phone and we gripe and moan about the charges, but continue to pay them because we say there is no alternative. There IS an alternative. We CAN live without cell phones, and if we DID decide to do without, then pretty soon the cell phone companies would have to start offering reasonable contracts in order to get a sale.

Re:But government regulation is eeeevil! (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507994)

The United States, the government reserves charging for unwanted services to itself. This isn't so much regulating an industry as it is a minor turf war.

Re:But government regulation is eeeevil! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508142)

It's because we're a nation of 300+ million individuals. Not a collective that agrees on everything. This is why we vote for leaders, have more than one screen at our movie houses and have more than one kind of cola. Is everyone in your nation a like minded robot that all march to the beat of one durm? No. In that case please be kind enough to consider the "USians" also have independent minds with different wants and needs. Some of us love the government taking control of issues, others would like for them to butt out. Isn't that a great thing, that we're not mindless goosesteppers?

Jawa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507008)

There's a local company here in AZ that's guilty of the practice. They've changed their name from Cylon to Jawa. I interviewed there a couple times before figuring out how sleezy their business model was. They make big $ but it wasn't worth selling my soul for it. Jason Hope, I'm looking at you.

Re:Jawa (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507380)

The clue should have been that they were naming their company after evil aliens, bent on subsuming the human race....

What about landline mystery fees authorized by FCC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507138)

I refer to the Subscriber Line Fee, a variable charge that occurs each month with no explanation or justification as to why the amount is what it is. In addition, compared to the service fee, the Subscriber Line Fee is anywhere from 50 to 100% of the nominal charge. And yet, not only does the FCC turn a blind eye to this, they actually authorize it which gives the telcos a license to charge whatever they want, without having to disclose the existence or average amount of these charges prior to having customers bound into a service contract. Way to go FCC.

FCC Fee? :) (1)

saikou (211301) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507156)

Oh, for a moment there I thought they decided to force carriers to cover all fees from the bill. You know, so it'd be one total, not total + FCC Mystery Line Fee, USF Fee, blah blah blah.
Either that, or soon we'll see "Employee Handwashing Fee", "Cleaning Surplus Reimbursement Surcharge" and "Poison Control Center Fee" being imposed at fast food restaurants.
Oh well. I can dream...

Re:FCC Fee? :) (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507580)

I was kind of confused by this article, too, since according to my bill, most of the extra fees are "FCC Mandated" fees. Of course, what they don't tell you is that it is mandated that the carrier pay the fee to the FCC, but is in no way mandated that the user pay the fee to the carrier, other than mandated by the carrier of course.

What about generic 'recovery' fees? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507200)

I remember a few years ago selling Verizon phones. I saw Verizon bills seemed to have higher fees than other carriers. They all had the 911 fee and a few others, but I found Verizon had an additional 'recovery' fee without any real description of what it was paying for, and it was on the order of 10-20% of the advertised rate.

By advertising say $59.99 for a service and then immediately taxing their own service at 10-20% for an unexplained, unjustified reason, it appeared they were simply charging more than they advertised and burying the costs in fees to produce a lower advertising rate. I was surprised to see it, thought it was pretty dirty, and always had expected to see a class action suit, but it never came.

Spanish-American War tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507226)

This may not apply to cell services but I seem to recall when I was younger there was tax on my land-line phone bill that was enacted to pay for the Spanish-American war. Is that still there?

Re:Spanish-American War tax? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508036)

This may not apply to cell services but I seem to recall when I was younger there was tax on my land-line phone bill that was enacted to pay for the Spanish-American war. Is that still there?

Exactly how old are you?

Re:Spanish-American War tax? (1)

NoseSocks (662467) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508220)

As long as you aren't using local-only service, you are no longer paying that tax on your landline:
Wikipedia - Federal Telephone Excise Tax [wikipedia.org]

Cramming is Third-Party (1)

valkenar (307241) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507308)

I'm prepared to believe that the wireless companies do their own gouging of customers, but cramming is about third-parties charging your account. What this settlement aims to do is hold the carriers responsible for those third-party charges. And they should be held responsible, but this isn't quite the same thing as the carriers just charging you random amounts themselves.

credit cards... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36507684)

Would be nice if someone would do go after crooked credit cards companies too. I'm sick of my wife's card repeatedly having account protection discreetly added without approval. Last credit card company did the same crap over and over again.

What about "regulatory fees", etc? (1)

chihowa (366380) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507924)

What pisses me off is that they charge $XX per month for their service and then add to that an itemized list of their normal business expenses, as if those don't count toward their monthly charges. When you go to a retail store, they don't advertise a $25 widget, then add $10 for their property taxes, business license renewal fees, fire district taxes, employee healthcare charges, etc. (Though in the US, it's normal to advertise prices without sales tax, which is bullshit.)

So why don't all of these fees and shit get folded into the advertised cost of service? These aren't taxes on me, the subscriber, they're taxes on the business providing the service. Why do they get to just hand wave all of that out if their operating costs?

Pocket Change (3, Informative)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36507990)

$12 million divided among 4 carriers? I bet they're all laughing. That's just a (very small) cost of doing business for these guys. Fines of $100 milllion per carrier would get their attention - much less than that and it's hardly even newsworthy, much less an effective deterrent.

Oooh - 12 million dollars! (2)

ZipK (1051658) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508212)

The FCC announced fines totaling nearly $12 million against four carriers for cramming last week.

No doubt the board of directors, afraid the stockholders would hear about these outsized fines, quickly went around the table to see how much they each had in their pockets.

Acronyms (1)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 3 years ago | (#36508534)

AFT, SCIH, and FYPM. One is consumer friendly, the other two are industry. Can you gues what they mean? Honesty, with a presidential elelction just around the corner this is nothing but background noise. Since when do consumers, you and I, have any rights or protection anymore? Anything designed to protect consumers from unfair practices is always seen as anti-business and by extension in this economic situation anti-government. They rely on business more than the poor meak folk of course so it is what it is. I wouldn't expect anything from this other than higher prices and more consumer confusion. Nice try.

Fixed line? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36508730)

How about fining the Feds for "cramming" my fixed line bill?

Oh, wait, it doesn't work that way.

Big government pimps.

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