FCC Claims Mobile Phone Bills Are Too Complex

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America has produced a generation of people who cannot read instructions. They have trouble operating cars with new electronic devices, GPS systems, TV entertainment systems for the home, and even new PC operating systems. In many cases, Americans cannot even assemble a simple wooden chair made up of two or three parts.

Is it any wonder that many people cannot read their phone bills or understand the contracts they have will cellular service providers?The Federal Communications Commission recently came out with a new survey. Its headline is “FCC SURVEY CONFIRMS CONSUMERS EXPERIENCE MOBILE BILL SHOCK AND CONFUSION ABOUT EARLY TERMINATION FEES.” The poll was done with data from 30 million American cellphone users.

One of the first conclusions from the data is that half of American with mobile handsets with early termination fees “don’t know the amount of the fees they’re accountable for.” That information is, of course, part of the contract that mobile users sign when they get cellular service. The contract language is covered by law. The FCC’s point, it would seem, is that either people cannot read or choose not to remember what they have signed.

Another conclusion of the FCC research is that 84% of those surveyed said their mobile carrier did not contact them when they were about to exceed their allowed minutes, text messages, or data downloads. It was never really part of the understanding between carriers and subscribers that the customers had to be warned. Cellphones carry systems that show subscribers how many minutes they have used. Most people obviously choose not to use them.

Many cell subscribers also do not know how their early termination fees work. “Of the respondents with personal cell phones, 54 percent said they would have to pay an ETF should they terminate their contracts before the expiration date, and 18 percent didn’t know whether they would have to pay or not. Of those who are subject to an ETF, 43 percent said it was $150 or more, but 47 percent didn’t know how much it was.”, the FCC reported. Of course, the fees are also in the service contracts that subscribers sign.

The FCC reports that many people do not understand why their service fees can go higher from month to month. “The amount of bill shock varies widely but is often sizable. In the survey, more than a third of people who experienced bill shock said their bills jumped by at least $50, and 23 percent said the increase was $100 or more. ” When people use more minutes for talk and text than they have signed up for or make calls overseas, the bills can move up rapidly, but that is to be expected.

The FCC report only shows one thing. Americans do not read the contracts that they sign, whether it is for mortgages or cell service. They do not know how to check their handset to see how many minutes they have used. And, so their bills come as a surprise. Maybe the instructions and contracts aren’t worth reading. The FCC will make things better.

Douglas A. McIntyre