Verizon Wireless still faces FCC scrutiny over wrong data charges
Verizon Wireless is trying to make good with its customers they wrongly charged for data services, but the nation’s biggest wireless service operator still faces scrutiny by federal regulators.
The Federal Communications Commission said Sunday that it will continue to investigate Verizon Wireless for charging 15 million of its cellphone customers for data services they didn’t intend to use. Such practices include launching an application or opening a cellphone Web browser accidentally. Over the past two years, Verizon said that it charged customers without data plans $1.99 per megabyte.
The FCC has rules against mystery fees, a practice known as “cramming,” where an unauthorized, deceptive or misleading fee appears on a phone bill (which can include wireless phone bills). Ten months ago, the agency launched an investigation into whether Verizon was cramming customers’ bills with unwanted data charges based on media reports (including David Pogue’s column in the New York Times).
The agency said in their release last night that questions remained in their investigation. Verizon is presented now with two regulatory actions, experts say.
1) The company can settle the investigation through a consent decree, which would result in Verizon paying a settlement fee. (A past example: In 2007, Univision paid a $24 million settlement fee after the agency found that it had violated children’s programming rules).
2) The FCC could slap a fine on the company through a “notice of apparent liability.” If Verizon were to respond, any of its statements about its practices would be under oath.
The practice of cramming has drawn complaints from subscribers of services offered by competitors such as AT&T. But it is unclear how broadly the agency is investigating the practice. A spokeswoman for the FCC declined to comment on whether its investigation included other carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel.
| October 4, 2010; 12:05 PM ET
Categories: FCC, Verizon
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