New Legislation Asks FCC To Create Anti-Cramming Rules For Wireless Bills

While recent action by the FCC created rules intended to curb the practice of “cramming” unauthorized third-party charges on consumers’ landline phone bills, it did nothing to stop the same from happening for wireless customers. Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller IV introduced legislation that would end the practice and direct the FCC to create rules covering wireless customers.

Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced the Fair Telephone Billing Act of 2012, which will require all landline and VoIP companies to put an end to the placement of almost all third-party charges on customers’ bills. AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink have already begun to implement this change.

The bill would ban third-party charges on landline and VoIP bills, except for legitimate legitimate third-party charges like collect calls or “bundled” services, like satellite television, that might be jointly marketed with the telephone services

Additionally, the bill direct the FCC to create rules to curb cramming on wireless bills. The rules should ensure that consumers are reimbursed for any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their wireless bills.

“It has become clear that cramming now extends to wireless bills,” said Rockefeller. “And while we shouldn’t prohibit third-party billing on wireless bills in the way we’re doing it on wireline bills, now is the time for the FCC to create rules that ensure cramming on wireless bills is prevented…. Let’s learn from the lessons of wireline cramming and address the vulnerabilities of wireless billing right now, before any more consumers are harmed by the shameful practice of cramming.”

Starting in the ’90s, more and more third-party charges began to appear on consumers’ phone bills, many of them for services the consumer never ordered or was not given a chance to opt out of.

The recent FCC rule changes require landline companies to let customers know if they can opt out of third-party billing and to list all third-party charges clearly and separately.

“These cramming scams take advantage of millions of customers each year. This legislation is a much needed to step to stop these predatory practices and ensure that consumers are only being charged for services they approved,” said Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Wireless phone users deserve the same protections as wireline and VoIP customers, especially as more consumers are moving away from landlines and towards wireless technology. The same cramming abuses that happen on landlines can easily happen to wireless users. It is imperative that any directive for the FCC to develop these wireless cramming rules be carried out quickly and efficiently.”

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  1. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    So what’s the plan to get the wireless providers to stop charging ludicrous amounts for measly and wholly unrealistic data plans?

    • MCerberus says:

      The plan is continuing to yell at the top of their lungs how great America is while ignoring the data infrastructure is continuing to fall behind while consumers pay more for their less. Any attempt to change this will result in a bunch of idiots calling other idiots socialist.

    • Velkyr says:

      Or charging for voicemail when it doesn’t cost them anything to provide the service, but costs them to actively block it for those that don’t pay?

    • Jawaka says:

      Its a free market. There’s no need to get involved.

  2. wastedlife says:

    As a victim of cramming in the past, I hope this happens.

    I’d also like to take a moment to remind “Bango Limited” to go fuck themselves.

    • Vox Republica says:

      Thanks for signing up with Comment Horoscopes! If you wish to no longer receive horoscopes in your website’s comments, simply text STOP to 2259289623gn2hn0gq281*!@1n.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    “The rules should ensure that consumers are reimbursed for any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their wireless bills.”

    So wait, if third-party charges are now banned, why would I need a rule for being reimbursed for unauthorized third-party charges? Shouldn’t they just be blocked completely, or would that just be too easy?

    • wastedlife says:

      Only third-party charges on Landline and VOIP phone bills are banned now, not wireless. They do not wish to ban third-party billing for cellular phones, as not all charges are unauthorized (though I personally would not mind if all of it was banned).

      • MCerberus says:

        But if cramming is banned on wireless, how will (and damn if this wasn’t actually advertised on TV) consumers be able to rent (not download, mind you, rent) up to three premium ring tone for $19.95 a month?!

        • Blueskylaw says:

          What exactly make a ring tone premium? Fresh, organically
          grown bits and bytes with no anti-biotics or growth hormones used?

      • Blueskylaw says:

        So if cramming was such a huge problem for Landline and
        VOIP phones, why do they think cell phones will be different?

        • wastedlife says:

          Cramming is a huge problem for wireless too(as I mentioned in a couple other threads, I have been crammed on my wireless bill before). The issue is that there are actually legitimate services using it (such as charging for app purchases, donating to Red Cross via text message, etc.) on wireless. There were few to no such services using it on landlines. The proposal here seems to be about ways to prevent cramming while still allowing legitimate services. I’m not sure what would do it, but it will probably be better than doing nothing.

  4. framitz says:

    This kind of regulation will only make things worse in the long run.

    If the provider is a rip off then people should move away from that provider and let the people VS providers do the regulation.

    If a provider is losing customers because of their billing then many customers will go elsewhere which should stimulate change in the business practice in the long run.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      That would be a great sentiment if consumers had much of a choice in carriers to begin with, and if they didn’t all allow this.

      Sorry, your thinking just doesn’t really work in the real world.

      • jeb says:

        It works in highly competitive markets with many alternatives.

        When there’s only four major wireless carriers that everyone must either buy from directly or indirectly (as all MVNOs, including Tracfone, must buy access to those networks) to get nationwide coverage, there’s not, by default, a highly competitive market.

    • Maz says:

      Not realistic when they collude. And if you don’t think they do… well…

  5. Coffee says:

    Good…this cramming business is bullshit. I got a text once that – because I didn’t respond to it – automatically opted me into a $10/month “dating advice” service. Because of my plan, it would have cost $.20 even to say no. Highway fucking robbery.

    • wastedlife says:

      They probably would have billed you even if you responded. It happened to me a few years ago. My wife received a text message out of the blue thanking her for subscribing and saying to reply with CANCEL to stop the service. She did, and sure enough, there was a charge on our next bill from “Bango Limited”. I called AT&T, disputed the charge, and then put a block on all third-party charges. When I switched to Sprint, one of the first things I did was to request the same block.

  6. homehome says:

    When I worked in cell phones, this was a major problem. As a rep, we’d know when a person got jipped, but we couldn’t do anything about it unless a customer kicked up dust. Those companies are allowed to put stuff on ppl phones, and like someone said even if you decline or reply stop like they say you’re supposed to they’ll still do it. They get a lot of ppl because stupid consumers go 3 to 5 months without looking at their bills.

    • MCerberus says:

      Semantic note of interest:

      The word ‘gypped’ is actually a racial slur. Those thieving gypsies!

      • homehome says:

        Lol Whoops

        • MCerberus says:

          Well it only retains context in the Mediterranean region anyway, it’s just a quirk in the language.

          Like how assassins don’t get stoned before killing people (most of the time… some times… I don’t know how it works)
          The act of vandalism
          Calling someone a cretin.
          Anyone who uses a germanic legacy language (which includes English) a barbarian.

  7. HogwartsProfessor says:

    “Starting in the ’90s, more and more third-party charges began to appear on consumers’ phone bills, many of them for services the consumer never ordered or was not given a chance to opt out of.”

    Fraud. Fraud is a crime. This is not a “shameful practice.” It is a crime and should be illegal.

  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “It has become clear that cramming now extends to wireless bills,” said Rockefeller.

    It was always clear, as clear as it ever was with landline.

    Congressmen are just slow to understanding what’s going on in the world.

  9. frodolives35 says:

    In the early days of the internet a coworker got a $900 dollar phone bill. He had went to a website that installed a re dial virus that called a foreign country. It was a scam and Bell South refused to take it off the bill. It seems to me that they were a party to the scam as when he settled with them they reduced the amount by a couple of hundred that represented their portion of the fees. Big companies don’t really care as long as they get their piece of the pie.

  10. oldwiz65 says:

    The wireless companies get a percentage of the amount they collect for the crammers. They do not want to stop this; it is easy money for them and it’s a good profit. Profit is very important to them; their executives need their million dollar bonuses. Asking them to give up any profit is like asking a politician to stop taking bribes.

  11. syxx says:

    if the government wants to help out on phone bills they should stop charging so much in taxes

  12. Judah says:

    There a plan to cause my cell phone provider to charge me for only 1 sec 1 minute instead of two minutes for calls that last 1 sec 1 minute?

  13. Something2Say says:

    I work at a call center for a wireless company. I used to be in customer care, and this was the second most popular call (first most popular: I need to set up a payment arrangement.) I believe some people *do* get crammed through little or no fault of their own, and we take care of those charges and do offer a way to block third party charges from charging to the wireless bill.

    But I’m going to be honest and also point out that people allow these kinds of things on their bill–either by outright agreeing to the charges or by being stupid with how they are giving out their cell phone number–and then later call and complain that these things have been added to their bill. But if you’re playing Farmville on Facebook and you give some third party company your phone number for more “cash” (or whatever), part of that can be signing you up for a third party subscription. Or, yes, typing in 56331 to the word “Horoscopes” doesn’t just get you one text–you get multiple ones per month for $9.99 a month.

  14. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    “The rules should ensure that consumers are reimbursed for any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their wireless bills.”

    First of all, I can’t believe we need to create a ‘rule’ that says you’re not allowed to steal money from my via bogus fees.

    Secondly, when do I get reimbursed for all the bogus charges CenturyLink has been stealing from me for the past several years?

    Third, how do I determine a bogus fee or ‘tax’ from a legitimate one right now? Can I sue them for those fees back if I can prove I never authorized them? How is this stealing again?

    “The recent FCC rule changes require landline companies to let customers know if they can opt out of third-party billing and to list all third-party charges clearly and separately.”

    What is this, Alice in Fu*king Wonderland? Why the fu*k are they allowed to tack on bullshit fees in the first place? Whoever these third-party scammers are, someone needs to seize all their assets and take a wrecking ball to every one of their locations, like, right FU*KING NOW!

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      “How is this stealing again?”

      Damn it. Should be “How is this NOT stealing again?”