FCC Finds Broadband, Wireless Bills ‘Shock’ Users

WASHINGTON: One in six wireless users has experienced “bill shock,” the FCC said this week. The commission released the results of a survey of cell-phone and broadband users and found 15 percent had “a sudden increase in their monthly bill... not caused by a change in service plan.” The survey also revealed that nearly half of cell phone users and nearly two-thirds of home broadband users with early termination fees have no idea how much they would owe. The survey lands as the feds consider how to create a nationwide broadband network--one that would likely require the participation of incumbent wireless and broadband providers.

“The FCC’s consumer survey provides an important snapshot of the real-world experiences of mobile customers,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “A simple and easy to understand mobile purchase and billing process will empower consumers to avoid bill shock and other unexpected fees.”

Abt/SRBI and Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 3,005 American adults between April 19 to May 2, 2010. Of those, 80 percent had a personal cell phone. Among the bill-shocked...
... 84 percent said their provider didn’t warn them about exceeding their plan parameters.
... 88 percent said their provider didn’t contact them after their bill suddenly increased.

Bill shock amounts varied, but were often “sizeable,” the FCC said. More than one-third of folks said their bills jumped by at least $50; 23 percent, by $100 or more. Among personal cell-phone users, 54 percent had early termination fees; 43 percent said they were $150 or more. Eighteen percent didn’t know if they had ETFs, and of those who did, 47 percent didn’t know how much they were. Most blamed incomprehensible bills. Findings were similar for home broadband termination fees. Just 21 percent of home broadband users said their contracts include an early termination fee, but 64 percent didn’t know how much it was.

Folks surveyed said ETFs keep them from changing carriers even if their service was lousy. Forty-three percent said it was their major reason for keeping a substandard provider.

The commission said it’s looking into ways to mitigate bill shock. It launched a related proceeding last August and another earlier this month targeting bill shock.
-- Deborah D. McAdams