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Alerts aim to warn of cellphone overages

October 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The days of surprise sky-high cellphone bills may soon be behind us. The federal government has reached a deal with cellphone companies to warn consumers before they exceed their cell plan limits.

Little by little cellphone companies have been moving away from unlimited smartphone data plans. As that happens, more and more customers have been surprised by their phone bill as they go over the limits on their data plan. But now the cellphone industry has agreed voluntarily to help you avoid bill shock.

Surprise, surprise. You take a look at your cellphone bill and it is shockingly high.

Then you notice the reason is you went over the limits on your voice, text or data plans. You have just experienced "bill shock."

A Consumer Reports survey says one in five respondents received an unexpectedly high bill last year. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that tens of millions of people are hit with overage charges each year.

"'Bill shock' is a real consumer problem that needs to be fixed, and there are ways to do this easily and inexpensively using technology that's widely available," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

That technology is text messaging and voicemail, which could make bill shock a thing of the past.

The four largest carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, have all agreed to begin sending voice, text, or data alerts free to their customers before they exceed their cell plan minutes.

"It will help them be more aware of what they're using so they can get a better plan so they don't have to pay so much for their monthly bill," said Verizon store manager Melissa Villegas.

The new agreement also includes warning customers of international roaming charges when traveling abroad.

The new alerts don't take effect immediately. They will take from 12 to 18 months to officially roll out.

Although Verizon and AT&T do have alerts now, the FCC considered them inconsistent.

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