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Wireless Carriers Now Sending Usage Warning Texts

By - Source: LA Times | B 32 comments

Wireless carriers have agreed to end "bill shock" by sending texts to customers warning of overages and possible fees.

Just the other day my wife received a text message from Verizon Wireless saying that we were "on track to incur overage charges" for the month. This was the first time we've received a warning like this, so we called Verizon to see if it was bogus and discovered that my oldest son had actually consumed most of our monthly minutes. Because of this, the damage had already been done as the message indicated, and we were way over the limit, facing additional fees.

According to the L.A. Times, Verizon, AT&T and other cell major cellphone providers have reportedly agreed with U.S. regulators to end bill shock by sending warning text messages to subscribers who are approaching monthly voice, text and data limits.

The agreement has thus helped produce a new set of voluntary industry guidelines called the Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines aimed to avoid the threat of new government regulations, and includes warnings about situations like my own where we've exceeded the plan's limits and face overage charges. Customers will also receive warnings when traveling overseas and are about to incur pricey international roaming fees.

The agreement arrives just as wireless carriers move away from the unlimited data plans, charging customers for limited packages of data for hefty fees. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to officially reveal the carriers' guidelines Monday at a news conference with the head of wireless industry trade group CTIA and an executive from advocacy group Consumers Union. These guidelines should be in place within the next 18 months although from personal experience it looks as if Verizon has already set the warnings system wheel in motion.

"Far too many Americans know what it's like to open up their cellphone bill and be shocked by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges," President Obama said in a statement. "Our phones shouldn't cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage."

Steve Largent, president of the CTIA, said the new guidelines are the "perfect example of how government agencies and industries they regulate can work together … to consider whether new rules are necessary or would unnecessarily burden businesses and the economy." The new guidelines will be included in the CTIA's existing consumer code which also demands accurate coverage mapping and giving customers 14 days to cancel a service without having to pay early termination fees.

Monday FCC officials said that the nation's four largest carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile -- will follow the new bill-shock guidelines. Other wireless carriers including US Cellular and Clearwire have also signed on to follow the guidelines. Participating companies have agreed to apply any two of the four alerts within 12 months, and all four within 18 months.

"Regulations, no matter how well-intentioned, simply cannot be as flexible and responsive to consumer needs as a self-regulatory code," CTIA said.

UPDATE: Verizon just sent over this press release "applauding" the new policy of usage alerts:

CTIA-The Wireless Association announced on Monday (Oct. 17) that wireless companies have agreed to a standard set of guidelines for sending notifications to help wireless consumers avoid unexpected overage charges.  These "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" give consumers free alerts, which subscribers will not have to affirmatively sign up to receive, to help prevent overages and potential additional charges for data, voice, messaging and international roaming services.

"Verizon Wireless has a long-standing commitment to provide customers with the tools they need to manage and monitor their wireless lives," said Kathleen Grillo, Verizon senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs. "The new CTIA usage-notification guidelines announced today are a win for consumers.  For the first time, the industry has adopted a common standard for all wireless providers to expand usage-management tools for consumers. Verizon already offers customers a number of helpful free alerts and controls for usage-based data plans, and we’re pleased that the industry took the initiative to empower consumers with more information.

"Chairman Genachowski deserves credit for raising the industry’s awareness of the value of more usage alerts. He encouraged the industry to address usage alerts in a manner that recognizes that innovations in the wireless world develop quickly. The result is an industry code that will serve consumers better than rules that would soon be outdated, and that is responsive to President Obama’s request that federal agencies avoid imposing unnecessary regulation on businesses when a nonregulatory solution is available. We hope that in the future this industry effort serves as a model for the communications space."

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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    The Greater Good , October 17, 2011 5:34 PM
    yer__mommaI have Sprint, what is this "coverage" you speak of?

    Fixed that for ya.
Other Comments
  • -1 Hide
    zak_mckraken , October 17, 2011 5:11 PM
    Good initiative. We seldom see a communication company with an honnest business practices. Well, this time...
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 17, 2011 5:29 PM
    I have Sprint, what is this "overages" you speak of?
  • Display all 32 comments.
  • 12 Hide
    The Greater Good , October 17, 2011 5:34 PM
    yer__mommaI have Sprint, what is this "coverage" you speak of?

    Fixed that for ya.
  • 5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , October 17, 2011 5:40 PM
    It's about time. Maybe if a wireless company had a brain, it could've pitched the idea "We'll tell you when you're low on texts" as a way to lure in customers.

    I'm kind of curious if you're able to have more control on a family plan. Lets say, your oldest son took all of the text messages from the family plan of a given pay period. Can you then limit him for the rest of the month to only sending text messages to other members on the family plan, or other certain users (i.e. other family members or very close family friends)? That is, for the rest of the billing period, limit him from sending nonsense messages to his friends like "what did you eat for dinner?", "How was your date?" and so forth.
  • 9 Hide
    ThisIsMe , October 17, 2011 5:58 PM
    Well, at least with at&t you get unlimited calling to and from any mobile phone when you add unlimited messages to your family plan. That should keep most kids in check.

    BUT, I've long said that if a provider is to charge for a limited amount of usage, then that provider should offer an option to have that specific service deactivated when that limit is reached until the next billing cycle begins. That way they cannot use the threat of lowering someone's credit score and their lawyers to force someone to pay for something they never intended to purchase in the first place. I mean seriously, pay phones were doing this a long time before cell phones were even close to becoming real. You put in your dime/quarter and you talk until you run out. That's it. Also, I remember when pagers were kind of a big deal and when you bought your monthly quota, that was all you got. If you ran out of pages you got cut off until you bought more or the billing cycle started over. So, it's not like the systems can't do this. It's not like it would cost them more to impliment it. They just like getting that accidental extra income, and it's obvious.
  • 9 Hide
    ThisIsMe , October 17, 2011 6:00 PM
    jacekringWonder if the txt alert you get counts against your txting plan if you have a limited plan.

    I'm pretty sure that the Free VZW msg: at the beginning of the text indicates that it's a free Verizon Wireless message, but maybe that's just me.
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , October 17, 2011 6:09 PM
    Why is the US gov working with these crooks and their bogus fees rather than forcing them to be more competitive and not charge 10,000% more than it actually costs to send a text message or use any significant amount of data.
  • 0 Hide
    house70 , October 17, 2011 6:12 PM
    How about this: cut back just a little bit on the outrageous CEO compensations and with that money build more infrastructure, so we can all get the unlimited services that the rest of the civilized world enjoys already. And for the govt. regulations, if they really want to do something helpful, they need to break down those quasi-monopolies that telcoms have created by fragmenting the market amongst themselves and bring back true competition.
  • 0 Hide
    leper84 , October 17, 2011 6:15 PM
    Tmobile has been doing this for awhile, near the end of every month when I'm about to hit my 5gb slow down cap.

    Sad there has to be more govt. to force the big two to do the same when its gonna cost ya. If you're tired of the crap, buy from the small guys (until AT&T buys them).
  • 0 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , October 17, 2011 6:52 PM
    Have I been in a test area? I've been these free VZW messages for well over a year.
  • 1 Hide
    TeraMedia , October 17, 2011 7:11 PM
    That is, for the rest of the billing period, limit him from sending nonsense messages to his friends like "what did you eat for dinner?", "How was your date?" and so forth.

    You could take his phone away for the rest of the billing period. That might also teach him not to abuse texting...

    I'm curious to see how this actually works. If there are controls on the consumer side (e.g. I can configure it to "alert me when I'm down to 10% or 5 messages per day, whichever comes first."), then consumers are truly empowered to manage their wireless usage. But if it simply says, "You've used >= 100% of your minutes/data/msgs for this billing period" then you either have to buy more (and we know what kind of pricing to expect there...), or completely forgo that feature for a while.

    Can anyone who has already gotten these comment on the specifics about what these messages actually communicate?
  • 1 Hide
    dextermat , October 17, 2011 7:14 PM
    This should be menditory not only for cell phone but for internet providers and such.

    Videotron used to do it but stopped.
  • 3 Hide
    TheOnion , October 17, 2011 7:31 PM
    I have had this for almost a year on US Cellular and I must admit it is a good idea but the application of it is a bit sketchy. Some months I go over my texts and never get a warning text. Other months I go over and only get a 75% usage warning. I am supposed to get a 75% usage warning and another warning when I have sent my last allotted text. It is very hit or miss and it gives me a false sense of security. Please keep that in mind
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 17, 2011 7:44 PM
    US Cellular has been doing this for years. They didn't sign on, they started the movement.
  • 1 Hide
    Montezuma , October 17, 2011 7:55 PM
    Verizon Wireless has, for some time now, been sending out emails to data subscribers(at least for data-only devices) when customers reach 90% of monthly "allowances". There is even an option for getting emails at 50% and 75%, if I remember correctly. So, this is not news, as far as Verizon Wireless is concerned. This also does nothing for the consumer.

    Customers should have the option to stop usage, once the monthly plan allotment has been reached. Well, actually, we should be able to access affordable plans, which offer unlimited access, across the board. Since I doubt that will occur, then the former will suffice, for now.

    I have to use Verizon Wireless(VZW) for "broadband", since neither AT&T, Comcast, nor no other ISP, offers broadband to most of my county. Verizon Wireless is not great, as there are constant outages, even though VZW refuses to admit to it. I mean, when multiple devices, used by multiple customers go into a dormant state, it should be an indication there is a network issue. At least VZW is offering some sort of option, which puts it far ahead of the competition.

    I live in the metro-Atlanta area, and no line-based ISP will be bothered to install proper "broadband" access to greater than 15 to 20% of my county. Yet, I have observed AT&T installing Remote Terminals("regular" DSL) and VRADs(U-Verse) in areas with half, or less, of the population that my street has on it. ...but, I digress...

    Warnings do very little for people. Giving customers the option to suspend service, once their monthly allotment has been reached, would be great. The warnings are fine, but there needs to be more control options for customers.
  • 1 Hide
    FlyPonix , October 17, 2011 8:06 PM
    This is good. Now when i go over my 5GB limit, i will claim "i never got a text" and will fight tooth and nail until they remove the fee.
  • 1 Hide
    N.Broekhuijsen , October 17, 2011 8:13 PM
    They didn't have this in the US??

    you poor bastards. Happy to live in europe
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 17, 2011 8:31 PM
    Think the catch is that, you receive a message probably afterwards, saying that will, in the efforts to prevent overages due to the timely interest of the send outs to maintain service without disruptive service is best based when a message can be placed within some means to be say warned of. Given of this placing a charge for the issue is better regulated by a bill statement for such given the intial say cycle of such and as the next cycle continues you are know more aware of the say issue before you have to pay for it. Even though the charge is already in place for it.

    To a point after a few cycles or so, maybe less, you might get a warning before say interest of overage actually would take place. You have 1kb left of your say 200mbs, or less then 3mins of your 60mins or 120mins. Would need a pause say system probably. I've had the say 3min thing happen before right when I had gotten a call. But think is more a phone based say service then say service of interest within use of the say service. Didn't have say a "smartphone" either.

    But hey, some interest of ideas of say overage is probably better then none.
  • 0 Hide
    unksol , October 17, 2011 9:44 PM
    Did not know this was news... AT&T has been doing this, at least with my data. Minutes have never been an issue thanks to rollover minutes. I suppose its a convenience, I just assumed people were smart enough to press the button to see their current usage every now and then...
  • -1 Hide
    gio2vanni86 , October 17, 2011 10:01 PM
    M22244Why is the US gov working with these crooks and their bogus fees rather than forcing them to be more competitive and not charge 10,000% more than it actually costs to send a text message or use any significant amount of data.

    Not that i have anything against what you just said, but given the amount of traffic that each cell site gets is quite a lot, add the other 20k ppl sending a txt through that same cell site and they have every right to charge you. I have a brother in the industry and switching out equipment on cell sites isn't cheap, were talking thousands of dollars for each unit replaced. These cell sites and there equipment only go so long, sooner or later they die, burn out, etc. Charges must be applied to each thing whether it be txt, data, or calling. Its a business that has a lot of employee's it has to pay. That's just my 2 cents.
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