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Wireless industry tells the FCC its 'bill shock' survey is bunk

Wireless industry trade group CTIA on Wednesday questioned the Federal Communications Commission’s recent survey on cell phone bill shock, pointing to what it called methodological holes in the agency’s analysis.

In a blog post, CTIA vice president of government regulatory affairs, Chris Guttman-McCabe, criticized the agency’s choice of “inflammatory” language – “bill shock” – to describe surprises consumers faced with unexpected increases in their monthly cell phone bill.

The FCC declined to comment on CTIA’s blog.

The agency last May said 30 million people, according to its survey, said they experienced bill shock and that the agency would begin to address steps to make billing more predictable. The agency said one idea was to send text alerts to users when they incur extra charges or go beyond minutes or data of their plans.

McCabe doubted those figures. He said the overwhelming majority of respondents were under 18, which should have prompted survey takers to end their interviews.

“How many people under the age of 18 actually have ever seen a wireless bill? But wait, there’s more…,” he wrote.

Next, he said he was concerned by the FCC’s labeling of the survey results as “bill shock” when the term was never used in the survey questions.

And while a portion of those surveyed – that ends up representing an estimated 30 million people – said they had indeed seen sudden increases in their bills, McCabe said that could have been on purpose. The agency didn’t follow up with a question on whether that sudden increase was a surprise or upsetting.

By Cecilia Kang  |  July 14, 2010; 5:25 PM ET
Categories:  FCC , Mobile  
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Today's FCC reaches conclusions and then fishes selectively for facts to support them, excluding other facts. The FCC's public affairs office is a patsy of the Commissioner. Fire, aim, ready.

Posted by: ObamasGulfResponseIsMuchWorseThanKatrina | July 14, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I am very much in favor of truth in advertising. This does not seem to be the case with most communications companies, as well as other companies. We have went back to the "let the buyer beware" way of doing business since our country became the "United States of America, Incorporated". Both major political parties are bought and paid for by corporate America. The person who seems to think that the FCC is wrong either has no cell phone, or is financially secure enough that he (or she) isn't concerned about the phone bill. I am surprised by all the extra charges that my phone plan has, taxes, taxes, fees, etc. Not much resemblance to the price of the plan quoted when signing up for the phones. It's kind of like taking a plane trip, by the time they let you off the plane you've paid much more than you bargained for.

Posted by: JamesWassili | July 15, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Lack of standardization and regulation in the wireless communication environment is the US helps create higher costs and third-world service levels. Greedy companies want to hide costs and, like Wall Street, the drug industry, and others, want to be left alone to gouge customers and make it difficult for them to switch providers in response. Technology standardization in other developed countries reduces the need for multiple towers and allows customers to change providers without buying new equipment, thus reducing costs to the customer and industry. The US "free-market" method increases costs and lowers service and the industry flacks simply deny the facts.

Posted by: pjohn2 | July 16, 2010 6:49 AM | Report abuse

PJohn2 is right, multiple towers in the same cel area are a waste of resources and the basis for overpricing celtower data. If the law simply required celtower owners to allow all telecom companies to use each tower, real competittion would ensue and the telecoms could charge only for what they're providing: data transmission. As it stands now, they're taking "rent" fees for handset hardware & software, server hardware & software, internet content, etc. All they actually do is transmit data. Celtowers should be treated the same as phone landlines: "any lawful device" must be allowed to connect. See the 1968 Carterphone decision in which FCC regulators stood up to the AT&T phone monopoly. Can the FCC have as much courage today? Celtowers are an infrastructure utility, just as phone landlines are. We don't have 6 different landlines to each house, how can we support 6 different celtowers in each cel area?

Posted by: Religulosity | July 16, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

When a trade group screams about unfairness, it's a good indicator that the trade group is trying to spin bad news.

Check out the advertising for prepaid cell phone service, and observe how often the big selling point is "no surprises on your monthly bill." If this wasn't a problem, why is it being successfully used to sell phone service?

And yes, lots of teenagers under 18 have seen cell phone bills - probably waved under their noses while a parent yells about the budget...

Posted by: Common_Sense_Not_Common | July 16, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

The FCC survey also doesn't ask what the reason for the sudden hike was? Accidentally going over your minutes and not realizing how far or how much it costs? Not keeping track of ring tone down loads? Etc. I have a regular monthyly bill, on a muid range plan with my cell company and my bill is with in a $2 range every month and has been since i started this plan. and the taxes, fess, etc are only adding about $7 to the price tha plan was listed at on the web site.

What are these people doing that their bill wildly fluctuates?

Posted by: schnauzer2 | July 16, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I got a shock on MY cell phone bill this week after I replaced my old cell phone that was way past its expiration date. The guy at the cell phone store assured me that since I wasn't getting an upgrade, my new phone, which was the equivalent of my old phone, would be FREE.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at my next bill and found a $20.85 "upgrade" fee.

I filed a report with the FCC.

Screw cell phone companies! All are CROOKS!

Posted by: solsticebelle | July 16, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

CTIA exists to make its lying members look good and to call its members' customers liars. That's what it's doing here. I have learned the hard way that any telecomm company whose name begins with "Ver" routinely cheats and lies to its customers, and if a customer complains to the FCC, this "Ver" company will lie to the FCC, too.

I now use a prepaid wireless service, and it's just fine. I was a high-end "Ver" customer for many years, as was my wife. (shrug) They decided that stealing a few hundred dollars once was better than getting that much from us every month by providing honest service and billing.

FYI - Although we had problem with "Ver" wireless, our FCC complaint against "Ver" has to do with a landline service we'll call "FI," and "Ver" refusing to transfer our telephone number to another provider despite number portablity regs.

Beware of "Ver," people. And beware of the CTIA, which defends them!

Posted by: roblimo | July 16, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

A responsible person would know the phone plans they buy. They would check to see if they were getting what they paid for.

I know that VZN will allow you to change your plan on the fly if you are approaching your plan's minutes and change back the next month.

The nanny state wants to get all these text messages or whatever to warn them...soon it will be a "right" and therefore should be free or subsidized.

How about self-reliance

Posted by: alantich2000 | July 16, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm usually on the businesses side of thing, but wireless companies (heck, communications companies in generals) are some of the most corrupt, in my mind, in the world! These money-grubbing 'tards have no concept of anything other than making a buck. They make things entirely too difficult to manage and they make it too pricey.

They should be ashamed of themselves, but, Love Of Money is the ultimate in evil. It is, in fact, the root of all evil.

Say what you want, but this generation and the next few to follow are firmly under the heels of a global economy, and it's only going to get worse folks.

Posted by: stinkyliberals | July 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Consumer to Wireless Industry: Your billing practices are bunk.

Posted by: gmeagher | July 16, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

When you say "FCC declined to comment on CTIA's blog," does that mean YOU asked them to comment and they declined, or just that they didn't want to respond online on the blog? Where's the other side of the story, Cecilia?

Posted by: cgp01 | July 16, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

"A responsible person would know the phone plans they buy. They would check to see if they were getting what they paid for.

I know that VZN will allow you to change your plan on the fly if you are approaching your plan's minutes and change back the next month.

The nanny state wants to get all these text messages or whatever to warn them...soon it will be a "right" and therefore should be free or subsidized.

How about self-reliance

Posted by: alantich2000"

Obviously you are very naive.

A salesman at the **&* store lied to MY FACE that my phone - which was simply a newer version of my previous 4 1/2 year old phone - would be FREE. He wrote "0" on my CONTRACT. Nowhere IN the contract does it say anything about an upgrade fee.

Cell phone companies are LIARS. "Check" all you want. They will still lie to your face. Period. End of story.

Posted by: solsticebelle | July 16, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come now. Wireless companies are the very models of transparent, predictable pricing. You go in for the "$39/month" plan, and your monthly bill is north of $50. Sure, no problem here.

How dare the FCC impugn those honest, forthright wireless vendors?

[Side rant: any company that uses convoluted, 5-step mail-in "rebates" deserves all the bad publicity it gets.]

Posted by: kcx7 | July 16, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

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