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Letter to Julius Genachowski Chairman Federal Communications Commission

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Kerry (D-MA), and Mark Begich (D-AK) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski today calling for greater oversight of billing practices in the wireless industry. The letter follows Verizon Wireless' recent announcement that it will reimburse 15 million of its customers for charges incurred when they inadvertently accessed the Internet.

"As Verizon Wireless' recent decision makes clear, wireless consumers are often faced with confusion over wireless charges and uncertainty about their bills," the senators wrote in the letter.

In a statement issued on October 3, Verizon notified about 15 million customers that it would apply credits to customer accounts due to mistaken data charges. Over the past several years, these customers were billed for data sessions on their phones that they did not initiate.

This incident exposes the confusion consumers often experience with wireless billing practices. A recent survey conducted by the FCC showed that only 36 percent of cell phone customers who are familiar with their bills said that they include "very clear" information on Early Termination Fees (ETFs). Additionally, 43 percent of wireless customers feel compelled to stay with their current carrier because of ETFs, and 1 in 6 customers suffer from "Bill Shock."

In December 2009, Klobuchar, joined by Begich, introduced the Cell Phone Early Termination Fee, Transparency, and Fairness Act in response to consumer concerns over high ETFs. The bill would require wireless providers to pro-rate ETFs and clearly notify customers about the fee, not only at the time of purchase, but for the duration of their contracts.

The full text of the letter is below:

October 5, 2010

Julius Genachowski
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Genachowski:

We write to you today about Verizon Wireless' recent announcement that it will reimburse its customers for charges related to inadvertent internet access. Although this decision is a positive step forward for Verizon's consumers -- many of whom had been complaining about this unfair billing practice for months -- the announcement highlights the need for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remain committed to vigorous oversight of billing practices in the wireless industry.

According to news reports, Verizon Wireless' agreement to pay up to $90 million in refunds to 15 million current and former customers occurred only after the FCC involved itself in the dispute. Before the FCC's engagement, many consumers were left with no choice but to pay for services they simply did not use.

As Verizon Wireless' recent decision makes clear, wireless consumers are often faced with confusion over wireless charges and uncertainty about their bills. As you know, a recent FCC survey showed that only 36 percent of cell phone customers who are familiar with their bills said that they include "very clear" information on Early Termination Fees (ETFs). Moreover, 43 percent of wireless customers feel compelled to stay with their current carrier because of ETFs, and one in six customers suffer from "Bill Shock."

In light of these statistics, we urge the FCC to maintain robust oversight of billing practices in the wireless industry.

We look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator John Kerry
Senator Mark Begich


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