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It could happen to anyone, and it happened to me. Last year, I took on a consulting job that involved working out of town. Without realizing it, I began using my cell phone more frequently and for longer conversations. By the time I caught the problem, my monthly bill had gone from about $300 a month to well over $500, two months in a row. I worked out a compromise payment with my carrier and changed to a plan with more monthly minutes. I had learned about bill shock first-hand.

Bill shock – surprising jumps in cell-phone bills that happen without warning – is a common and serious problem. The FCC's Consumer Center receives complaints all the time from people whose bills may double or triple, going up by hundreds of dollars in a single month. Sometimes cell-phone carriers contact customers when they see an unusual calling pattern, as mine did, to their credit. Often they don't, and the bills go up.

Bill shock has been a major problem in Europe, where you can go into an international calling zone, at international rates, with as little effort as it takes Americans to drive from one state to another. The European press has reported many cases of bills reaching thousands of Euros. Now the European Union has taken action. Cell-phone carriers in Europe are now required to alert their customers when they're approaching the limit of their calling plans. This simple solution, which has just gone into effect, should be a practical way to prevent bill shock. At the least, it will ensure that every customer has fair warning.

Today the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC issued a Public Notice asking if there are any reasons that the European solution can't be used in America, and inviting comment on other ways to prevent Bill Shock. This action is one of the first initiatives from the FCC's new Consumer Task Force. Please let us know your thoughts on how to "stop the shock." Here are some links to get involved:

  • Read our Public Notice and press release
  • Learn tips for avoiding bill shock
  • If you've had a problem with bill shock that your carrier hasn't resolved, you can reach our Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (225-5322) or file a complaint online.
  • Comment on the Public Notice for the record (Proceeding #09-158).
  • And if you have a general comment on the subject, please add it to this blog below.