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Sen. Rockefeller: More Can Be Done to Protect Customers Against Cramming

Emails poured over the electronic transom Friday in response to the FCC's unanimous vote at its monthly meeting to crack down on phone bill "cramming."

The Hill, which has had its eye on cramming, which are mystery phone bill charges from third parties, was quick to weigh in.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who headed a congressional investigation into the cramming that found the practice could be costing consumers $2 billion annually, said to the FCC, essentially: Good job, but not good enough, and suggested Congress still needed to step in.

"I am pleased that the FCC is working to address cramming," he said. "Our investigation last year found that millions of consumers, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies have been tricked into paying billions of dollars in mysterious third-party charges on their landline telephone bills. But more can be done to ensure that consumers are protected from fraudulent charges on their phone bills." That includes not allowing the practice to migrate to wireless. The FCC did not apply its same anti-cramming measures to wireless or VoIP.

"I still believe legislation is needed to bring a halt to these fraudulent practices once and for all."  

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) another leading Hill critic of cramming, also said he was hopeful the FCC would keep an eye on wireless. "Today's unanimous approval by the FCC of these much-needed regulations is welcome news for American consumers," he said. "The new anti-cramming rules mean consumers will now be able to identify and have removed these sham charges from their bills. I look forward to working with the FCC as the agency continues to investigate this practice as it relates to wireless telephone services."

The FCC has asked for comment on the state of wireless bills, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Friday if those reveal a problem, the FCC will act.

AT&T said it was already doing a lot to combat cramming.

"AT&T takes the problem of unauthorized third-party charges, or cramming, very seriously," said the company in a statement. "We provide our customers with tools to understand and manage legitimate third-party charges on their phone bills and we have also put in place an aggressive anti-cramming program that includes strict requirements for customer authorization of third-party charges, monthly tracking of cramming complaints and audits of third-party billers.  In addition, last month, we announced that we would limit third-party charges on wireline bills to certain types of charges that are less likely to create opportunities for cramming."

Genachowski gave AT&T a shout-out Friday for those efforts and asked others to follow suit.