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Our Fight: Preventing Unfair Mobile Phone Fee Hikes or "Bill Shock"

Millions of Americans are being hit with unfair or unexpected mobile phone charges and fee hikes and AARP is fighting to protect  their wallets. AARP is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to protect consumers who get hit with sudden and unexpected fee hikes — even though they have made no changes to their phone plan. AARP is also fighting to prevent consumers from being unfairly penalized if or when they decide they want to change or alter their mobile phone plans, seeking better value for their dollars.

Currently, the FCC is considering regulations that would address this problem, known as "bill shock." Consumers can fall victim to bill shock for many reasons, including:

  • Roaming charges that accrue when consumers travel outside their coverage area, which can add up to thousands of dollars.
  • Overage charges that accrue when consumers exceed the limits on their voice, text or data plans and begin accumulating high charges at a per-minute rate.
  • Unexpected charges when a phone is used with Wi-Fi in "airplane mode."
  • Charges for mandatory data plans that are included with new phones and plans without the consumer's knowledge.
  • Other fees that are included without the consumer's knowledge.
  • Confusion about promotional rates, plans and billing — including unclear or inconsistent guidance from salespeople and customer service representatives.

According to a recent FCC survey, 17 percent of American adults with a personal mobile phone said that at one time their bill increased suddenly from one month to the next, even though they had not changed their calling or texting plans. Of those 17 percent, 22 percent of the respondents were 50 or older. Although the amount of money these victims of bill shock owed varied, 23 percent of those surveyed said they paid more than $100 in unanticipated fees.

AARP is urging the FCC to issue new rules that would require mobile phone companies to be more transparent so their customers can avoid unnecessary fees.

AARP also believes these companies should have to compete for their customers' business by providing the best value, not the most restrictive contract. That's why AARP is urging the FCC to allow consumers to cancel their cell phone contracts without unfair penalties.

Specifically, AARP is calling on the FCC to adopt comprehensive rules to promote informed choice and consumer protection in the wireless telecommunications services market, including:

  • Text or voice alerts that would notify customers regarding usage and specifically when they are nearing and/or have reached their monthly limits, as well as to a predesignated "main" line for the plan.
  • Text or voice alerts notifying customers prior to incurring roaming charges while traveling, as well as to a predesignated "main" line for the plan.
  • Better disclosure by service providers of tools available to customers for managing their wireless account, such as online resources or smart phone apps.
  • Allowing consumers to cap usage and thus prevent incurring unexpected and additional costs.
  • Allowing consumers to cancel, without penalty, any contract for wireless telephone service within a period of at least 20 days after the date of the first bill for monthly service following service activation.

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