The FCC is preparing some new fairness requirements for wireless carriers over transparency on charging and data caps - a move that’s bound to be greeted with cheers by the US wireless industry. By Ian Scales.
One of the mobile industry’s little not-so-secrets is that a significant proportion of its ARPU can reasonably be attributed to clever obfuscation of the charges. As a user, it’s amazing how complex it can become to work out how much you’re paying and what package you should be on to get the best deal; what with your family deal, your 400 free minutes, your special break for weekend and evening calls... and so on.
Then there’s the fact that it’s difficult (or impossible) to get an easy update on your consumption of ‘free’ minutes at any particular point in time - so you don’t know whether to place that long call on the landline instead of the mobile because you don’t know how many minutes you’ve already used. And that, of course, is the point.
The industry has ‘got away’ with this lack of transparency partly because the technology didn’t used to be up to providing a solution.
But now - with the advent of metered data charging in 3G - it’s hard to see how things can stay as they are, especially as smartphone apps can so easily do the monitoring (I have two or three on my phone already, counting data and minutes).
After all, if you expect people to stay within a data cap, you need to help them monitor their consumption, backed up with warnings when caps are about to be breached or high-charge events are about to be triggered. The alternative is an endless stream of hard-luck ‘bill shock’ stories followed by calls for regulatory action - which is where the FCC has just entered the fray.
The commission is considering requiring wireless companies to alert subscribers before they accrue extra charges by hitting caps or incurring roaming charges. And it wants carriers to tell customers about tools they can use to set usage limits or review usage balances.
The FCC is expected to vote to seek public comment on how the rules should be framed and introduced.
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