Will FCC's Bill Shock Rules Have Any Teeth?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will take aim at so-called customer "bill shock" by proposing changes to how mobile device operators alert customers when they're about to incur extra charges.

The "bill shock" effort is part of what's being called the FCC's "consumer empowerment agenda," designed to limit the ways in which operators can add charges and confuse customers with billing practices.

According to sources, the FCC's proposed rules for stopping "bill shock" will come as early as Thursday. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told The New York Timesthat a five-member FCC will examine rules on how mobile operators need to notify customers if they're about to exceed monthly usage limits, if they can expect fees, or whether they're incurring roaming charges.

"The data is clear that there is a significant consumer issue," said Genachowski to the Times Tuesday.

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The rules are expected to be approved, although they face ample opposition from mobile operators. The U.S.' largest mobile network operator, Verizon Wireless, told the FCC in a filing that mobile phone operators "have developed tools that allow customers to monitor and control their usage in various ways."

The FCC hasn't yet made clear what the "bill shock" rules will be, but according to Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, they won't require carriers to shut services to customers who exceed data limits, as was proposed in legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D, N.M.).

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The FCC earlier this year estimated that 30 million Americans experienced "bill shock" when looking at their mobile operator bills.

That estimate, released in May, was based on a survey of 3,005 U.S. adults taken in April, and suggested that one out of every six mobile users has been surprised by what they see in their phone bill. Further, said the FCC, 23 percent of users polled had bill increases of $100 or more over what they expected to see.