Senators Introduce Bill To Protect Alaskans From Unethical Billing Practices
January 11, 2012
"Phone bill cramming is a scheme to use a consumer's phone number like a credit card," Senator Wielechowski said. "Whether over the phone or on the Internet, consumers are solicited for free trials, coupons or prizes, and they're never clearly told they're purchasing a service and that they'll be charged on their phone bill.”
The FCC estimates that 15 million to 20 million households may have unauthorized charges on their landline bills each year, with charges ranging from $1.99 to as much as $19.99 a month. The agency says most people have no clue the charges are there because they appear with vague wording such as "voicemail,” "service charge" or "other fees." On mobile phone bills, the charges may appear as downloads for services that were never actually downloaded, or as subscription charges for what users thought was a single purchase, perhaps for a weather alert or ringtone.
“Consumers often don't spot the small monthly fees, but even when they do getting refunds can be a nightmare,” Senator Wielechowski added. “The telephone provider that sends the bills often refuses to issue refunds, instead referring consumers to the third-party firms, which are often unresponsive.
“This law would put in statute what everyone expects to be the case anyway. Consumers do not expect to pay for groceries at the airport or gasoline at a restaurant, and people expect and deserve the same fair treatment for telephone billing.”
According to a recent investigation by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, over the past five years, telephone companies have placed more than $10 billion worth of third-party charges on their customers’ landline telephone bills. Cramming occurs in Alaska today on a smaller scale.
“This bill would stop third party telephone bill cramming in Alaska in its infancy,” said Senator Wielechowski. “Keeping more money in consumer’s pockets to spend on legitimate goods and services helps promote a healthy economy.”
Since the State of Alaska has regulatory authority over landlines and wireless service providers in rural Alaska that are carriers of last resort, this legislation would target cramming as it relates to those services.
Vermont was the first state to enact popular legislation banning cramming in April of 2011.
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