Cellphone users will be warned before hitting plan limits

By Mike Snider, USA TODAY

A deal between the government and the wireless industry, to be announced today, will give users of cellphones and other mobile devices warnings before they exceed monthly talk, text or data limits.

At least two of the alerts, which also include one for international roaming charges, will be implemented within 12 months, all within 18 months, under the member guidelines adopted by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and prompted by the Federal Communications Commission. CTIA members cover 97% of U.S. wireless customers.

Consumer complaints led the FCC last October to consider mandating such alerts via voice or text when subscribers near or pass limits. The FCC last year studied "bill shock" and found that one in six mobile users had seen unexpected jumps in monthly wireless bills, 23% of them by $100 or more. Carriers moved to work with the FCC on voluntary guidelines before it proposed rules.

The agreement is a "victory for more than 300 million wireless consumers," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills."

The deal addresses consumer interests without the weight on the industry of new regulations, said CTIA President Steve Largent.

And it got the blessing of President Obama, who said in a statement, "Our phones shouldn't cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage. So I appreciate the mobile phone companies' willingness to ... join us in our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers."

Although the alerts might provide consumers with more protection, Gartner analyst Phillip Redman said, "There's no guarantee that would eliminate overage charges. ... What's needed is clearer pricing and cellular companies working harder to better align users with the proper plan."


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