Person sending a text message
Text messaging and internet use on the phone got a Florida woman a $200,000 cell phone bill. Photo: Joi/Flickr.com/CC-BY

Recently, the trade organization for wireless carriers and the Federal Communications Commission came to an agreement to curb bill shock for cellular phone users. In a well-timed case of proving the need for this policy change, a woman in Florida recently received a cell phone bill for $200,000.

Cell phone summit supplanted with surreptitious bill

The Federal Communications Commission has become concerned with “bill shock,” when cellular phone users open their monthly bill statements and learn they have a huge tab to settle. CNN reports the FCC and CTIA, the trade organization for the cellular phone industry, have agreed on a warning system. However, a South Florida woman could have used the warnings sooner.

According to ABC, Celina Aarons recently opened her T-Mobile statement to discover she had been billed more than $200,000 for the month.

Text messages get expensive in Canada

Two of Celina Aaron’s younger brothers are deaf and communicate through sign language and text messaging. One of them went on a recent trip to Canada without switching to an international plan and incurred huge charges.

According to WSVN7, a Fox affiliate in Miami, Celina put her younger brother Shamir on her phone plan. Shamir is a college student and has an unlimited text and data plan through T-Mobile. However, she didn’t elect for international coverage while he was on vacation to Canada. He sent more than 2,000 text messages and downloaded videos, incurring numerous individual charges of more than $1,000. Celina received a bill for $201,005.44 for the month.

In a recent interview with WSVN7′s news segment “Help Me Howard,” in which people can ask public defender Howard Finkelstein legal questions, Aaron said she verified the bill with T-Mobile. Her carrier verified the charges outlined in the 43-page bill several times. However, T-Mobile reduced Celina’s bill to $2,500 and gave her six months to pay it off.

Consumers want bill shock eliminated

The Federal Communications Commission estimated in 2010 that up to 30 million Americans have gone through bill shock. Of the complaints received by the FCC about bill shock in 2010, 84 percent of people who filed a complaint said they hadn’t been warned by their provider and 88 percent said the charges weren’t explained in billing. Bills for $100 or more were received in 67 percent of complaints. Twenty percent of complaints involved charges of $1,000 or more, the largest of which was for $68,505.

A lot of bill shock comes from data charges when smartphone users don’t realize how much data they are using. A survey by BillShrink.com, according to Forbes, found the average person overpays $336 annually for data.

The FCC and CTIA, which represents the wireless carriers for 97 percent of U.S. cell phone users, reached an agreement recently that should keep bill shock to a minimum. Within 18 months, CTIA members will start receiving alerts when customers near their limit for voice, data, text and international wireless usage.

Sources

CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2011/10/17/technology/fcc_wireless_bill_shock_agreement/

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/fla-woman-shocked-200000-cell-phone-bill-14760890

WSVN7: http://www.wsvn.com/features/articles/helpmehoward/MI93365/

Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mobiledia/2011/10/17/carriers-to-curb-bill-shock-warn-consumers-about-data-overages/

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