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FCC tracks carriers' alerts to avoid mobile 'bill shock'

Reuters / file

You'd likely never get a cellphone bill for more than $200,000 like one Florida woman did last fall. But too many times, mobile users are surprised by the amounts of their phone bills when they arrive; the Federal Communications Commission says one out of six have experienced such "bill shock."

Last fall, the FCC and major wireless carriers agreed that by next April, free text alerts will be sent in advance of billing to customers who are exceeding their voice, data and text plans; or who incur additional charges when they use their phones when traveling outside the U.S.

The alerts, the FCC says, "will allow subscribers to better monitor and manage the use of their devices and avoid unexpected charges."

Some carriers have already started issuing such alerts, as seen from the table below on the FCC's website

Bill shock table
This chart, on the FCC site, shows which bill alerts carriers are providing to customers, as of April 19.FCC

(In the chart, "N/A," or "not applicable" for text messaging on T-Mobile and AT&T is because the carriers offer "an unlimited amount of the particular type of service, making the sending of usage alerts unnecessary," says the FCC.)

The chart will be updated at least monthly. 

Carriers have committed to provide two alerts to customers when they're about to incur overage charges, the FCC says: One when they're approaching an overage, and another when they exceed their plan's allowance for voice, data and text, and "when subscribers are about to incur additional international roaming charges after their devices have registered while traveling abroad."

"The carriers must provide their subscribers with at least two of the four types of alerts by Oct. 17, 2012, and all of the alerts by April 17, 2013," the FCC said.

As for the Florida woman, who has two deaf-mute brothers on her plan who use their phones for texting and watching videos, carrier T-Mobile agreed to reduce the bill to $2,500 -- and gave the woman six months to pay it.

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