Wireless “Bill Shock” Gets the Boot

Bill Shock: that startling, sinking, soul-sucking feeling you experience when you see your cellular phone bill and realize that it’s tens, hundreds, or even thousands of dollars more than you were expecting to pay.

“There must be some mistake,” you say, looking for a typo.

“This can’t be right!” you proclaim, as you reread it for the third time.

“I’m not paying this!” you protest, balling up the bill and throwing it at the cat, who also refuses to pay it.

"Your bill was how much?"

“Your bill is HOW much?”

We’ve all been victims of Bill Shock at some point—more than 30 million Americans have been affected, according to one study. It brings out the worst in us, and evolves into feelings like Bill Fear, Bill Anger, and/or Bill Hate. And of course, these emotions lead to the Dark Side. We wind up on the phone yelling at some hapless, powerless customer service representative (or worse, a recording of one), while trying to use a long-distance version of Darth Vader’s Force choke.

Bye Bye Bill Shock

The good news is, the FCC heard the millions of voices crying out against Bill Shock (or rather, the thousands of complaints submitted to them yearly), and in October 2011 they enacted the “Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines” in concordance with CTIA—The Wireless Association. These guidelines require telecom companies to send free alerts to subscribers before and after they have surpassed their limits for text, data, calling, and roaming. By notifying wireless users of impending overages, the FCC hopes to help them take back control over their cellular spending and better prepare them for the reality of their phone bills.

April 17th was the deadline for carriers to put this system of alerts into place, and you’ll be glad to know that all of the major carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, have taken the proper measures. Their timely compliance comes somewhat unexpectedly, considering that those top four carriers missed intermediate deadlines along the way (and they weren’t even charged late fees). Still, they’ve done their part in slaying the Bill Shock beast, and the rest is up to us. For more ways to avoid Bill Shock and be a responsible wireless user, the FCC’s Consumer Task Force has provided a list of recommendations.

The Stages of Bill Shock: 1. Alarm, 2. Fear, 3. Ping Pong Ball Eyes

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski heralded the accomplishment in a statement: “This milestone is a clear win for consumers. These text alerts will allow consumers to enjoy the benefits of mobile without unexpected hits to their wallets.”

Further reading: “Looking Beyond the Bill”

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Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. You can connect with Brent on Google +.