Wednesday, March 9, 2005

FCC Extends Truth-in-Billing Rules to Wireless Phones

The FCC expanded the federal consumer protection rules that apply to consumers' wireless phone bills. Specifically, the Commission:

  • Removed the existing exemption for Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) carriers from the rules requiring that billing descriptions be brief, clear, non-misleading and in plain language;

  • Held that it is misleading to represent discretionary line item charges in any manner that suggests such line items are taxes or government mandated charges;

  • Clarified that the burden rests upon the carrier to demonstrate that any line item that purports to recover a specific governmental or regulatory program fee conforms to the amount authorized by the government to be collected;

  • Clarified that state regulations requiring or prohibiting the use of line items for CMRS constitute rate regulation and are preempted.

  • Sought comment on the distinction between government "mandated" and other charges;

  • Tentatively concluded that, where carriers choose to list charges in separate line items on their customers' bills, government mandated charges must be placed in a section of the bill separate from all other charges;

  • Sought comment on whether it is unreasonable to combine federal regulatory charges into a single line item;

  • Tentatively concluded that carriers must disclose the full rate, including any non-mandated line items and a reasonable estimate of government mandated surcharges, to the consumer at the point of sale; and

  • Tentatively concluded that the Commission should preempt inconsistent state regulation of telecommunications carrier-specific truth-in-billing rules. The Commission emphasized, however, that no such action would limit states' ability to enforce their own generally applicable consumer protection laws.


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