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The Hill – Congress to FCC: Investigate Sneaky Phone Fees

March 6th, 2014

By Kate Tummarello

Members of Congress are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to look into phone companies that add unexpected fees to customers’ monthly bills.
 
In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications, and Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) asked the agency to investigate unexpected “below-the-line” charges and taxes.
 
“We believe consumers deserve greater transparency and disclosure prior to signing-up for service, as well as on their monthly bill,” the lawmakers wrote, citing company websites that require personal and payment information before consumers can determine their monthly costs.
“Given that the combination of such charges can add as much as 42 percent to a consumer’s monthly bill, we believe that further examination by the FCC is warranted,” the letter said.
 
The lawmakers called on the FCC to conduct “a thorough examination of this practice to ensure consumers can more accurately assess the true cost of fulfilling a multi-year service contract.”
 
The letter noted that the agency has examined “bill shock” in the past, “but this has typically focused on consumer-generated fees, such as unanticipated roaming or data charges,” rather than fees the company adds independent of consumers’ activity.
 
The wireless industry pushed back against the lawmakers’ claims.
 
CTIA-The Wireless Association pointed to an industry code of conduct that requires “disclosure of the type of fees that Eshoo’s letter addresses.
 
The organization represents wireless companies across the industry, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
 
“We have no reason to believe that any of our members are failing to abide by this commitment and have communicated as much to the members of Congress who signed the letter,” the group’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Jot Carpenter, said in a statement.
 
“Besides, the vigorous competition that characterizes the wireless industry encourages both disclosure and price discipline.”

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