FCC Asked To Address Misleading And Confusing Billing

In August, we wrote about upcoming investigations and possible actions by the FCC on several different areas of the consumer telecommunications experience. Several consumer groups filed comments on the first issue, truth in billing, this week, and we wanted to share some of their concerns and suggestions.

Consumers Union, along with the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and Public Knowledge surveyed consumer concerns and asked the FCC to consider regulations to stamp out some of the more unfair components of billing and, importantly, advertising and the actions leading up to the signing of a contract.

The comments [large PDF] go into detail about ads that mislead on pricing and performance; bills with hidden, vague, or arbitrary fees (one company assesses a per mile charge, on your phone bill for every mile you fly on a partnered frequent flyer program); and the problems that have arisen from companies setting their own voluntary codes of conduct.

One solution that the comments propose, which Ars Technica recently wrote about, is the inclusion of a modified “Schumer Box” that prominently lists mandatory disclosures. Anyone who’s ever received a credit card solicitation is familiar with the Schumer Box: it’s the chart that lists the APR, billing cycle, interest computation method, and other important information. The consumer groups’ comments suggest a graphic that discloses, for example, advertised minimum and maximum bandwidth, fees, any traffic shaping the ISP practices, and so on. A sample box can be seen here.

We are always in favor of making more information both available and understandable to consumers in order to help them make the best choice. We’ll keep you updated on the FCC’s action on these issues.

Consumer Groups’ Comments Before the FCC [12Mb PDF]
Could a Schumer Box Help Wireless/Broadband Consumers? [Ars Technica]
(Photo: The Joy of the Mundane)