One day before a Senate panel was to examine the issue, the Federal Communications Commission took initial steps to help prevent "cramming," the practice of adding deceptive charges to consumer phone bills.
The FCC gave notice of proposed rules to crack down on unauthorized fees on phone bills at its monthly meeting on Tuesday. Such charges, which are among the top consumer complaints received by the FCC, could include long-distance calls consumers say they didn’t make or services from third-party companies such as horoscopes. FCC officials said such charges are often small, maybe only $1.99 a month, and may be listed innocuously on a bill as “voice mail” or “Web” services.
“It’s unfortunately a serious and continuing problem for wireline customers and an emerging problem for wireless customers as well,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the meeting.
The proposed rule would require landline telephone companies that offer consumers the option of blocking third-party charges to “clearly and conspicuously” notify subscribers and to do more to clearly separate third-party charges on a consumer’s phone bill.
The proposal also would direct both landline and wireless phone companies to tell subscribers on their bills and on their websites how to file complaints with the FCC. The FCC is seeking comment on other possible measures, including requiring telephone companies to allow consumers to block third-party charges.
The Senate Commerce Committee, which has been investigating the problem for the last year, is set to hold a hearing Wednesday featuring state officials and telecom industry representatives.
While praising the FCC’s efforts to address the problem, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., last month questioned whether additional disclosures will provide much relief.
“For the past year, my committee has examined cramming and third-party billing on telephone bills. What we’ve found is troubling. We know that the telephone companies’ voluntary guidelines have failed to stop mystery fees. We know that additional disclosure requirements on telephone bills haven’t fixed the problem,” Rockefeller said last month in a statement.
The FCC also took initial steps to implement legislation passed last year to increase the number of community radio stations. The law requires the FCC to issue more licenses for low-power radio stations and loosen restrictions that keep community radio stations from interfering with bigger stations.