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FCC Launches Inquiry Into Combating Unexpected Wireless Phone Charges

The FCC is launching an inquiry into combating unexpected wireless phone charges, or what it calls "bill shock."

The FCC's new Consumer Task Force, headed by Joel Gurin, chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, wants to know whether the U.S. can and should adopt the European Union practice of mandating that wireless carriers send text messages to consumers who are running up roaming charges or pushing the limit on data roaming. The latter could become an issue if the FCC is correct about the importance of wireless to the broadband future.

Among the questions the FCC wants the public and industry to address are the extent to which consumers can already monitor usage and whether they are exceeding predetermined allocations, the extent to which carriers are already providing automatic alerts, whether either voice or data are better suited to such alerts, and accessibility to the alerts by people with disabilities.

The FCC opened a general inquiry last year into insuring access to information about communications services (transparency and notification are elements in the FCC's proposed expansion and codification of network neutrality principles), but this inquiry drills down into the specific question automatic notification.

"We are hearing from consumers about unpleasant surprises on their bills," said Gurin. "We've gotten hundreds of complaints about bill shock, but this is an avoidable problem," he said in announcing the new effort.

The initiative is one of the first from the task force, which was part of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's avowed effort to put more of the FCC's focus on consumers.

Comments will be due 45 days after publication of the notice in the Federal Register. Replies will be due 15 days after that.