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Facing regulatory pressure, carriers agree to send overage alerts

Wireless carriers have agreed to send free alerts to consumers when they reach monthly limits on voice, data and text usage. The plan also includes a notification to inform consumers of international roam charges when traveling abroad.

Carriers have been under pressure to provide notification around overages from the Federal Communications Commission. Last year, the FCC proposed new rules requiring mobile phone companies to send alerts to customers before they incur charges in addition to what is covered by their plans.

?The operators are getting ahead of regulators,? said Declan Lonergan, Dublin-based vice president of research for Yankee Group.

?On the surface, it can look like bad news for operators but, for the most part, it is a good thing because it saves them a lot of headaches and bad PR,? he said.

?It is not difficult to implement these automatic alerts.?

FCC backs off
The moves come after growing concern by regulators over complaints from consumers that there are too many unexpected fees and charges on their mobile phone bills.

A survey from the FCC last year indicated that 30 million Americans ? or one in six mobile users ? have experienced ?bill shock,? a sudden jump in charges not caused by a change in service plans.

The FCC said it will hold off on its new rules because of the industry?s efforts.

Regulators in Europe are similarly pressuring wireless carriers there to provide alerts for overages.

?In Europe, the regulators are being extremely aggressive and there is more to come,? Mr. Lonergan said.

?The operators have no choice ? a regulator is pushing them,? he said.

?My sense is that it would be a similar approach [in the United States].?

Wireless carriers representing more than 97 percent of mobile consumers in the U.S. have committed to the plan to provide alerts to customers, according to CTIA.

Participating carriers will provide customers with at least two out of the four types of notifications by Oct. 17, 2012. All four types of alerts will be offered by April 17, 2013.

The plan will provide free alerts both before and after subscribers reach monthly limits on voice, data and text in addition to the international roam alerts.

Subscribers will be covered by the plan unless they opt-out.

The new ?Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guildelines? will become part of the CTIA?s broader ?Consumer Code for Wireless Service.?

Carriers will have to take care to insure they do not send too many alerts ? and annoy consumers ? or too few alerts, and run afoul of regulators.

?I think you will see the operators be quite careful about this,? Mr. Lonergan said. ?They have to be extremely careful about how often they do it because if for a second the customer perceives that intrusive messages are being sent, it creates a problem.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York