Wireless Bill Shock Shouldn’t Be a Federal Issue


Washington, D.C., October 14, 2010 — The Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules today aimed at combating wireless “bill shock.” The rules would require mobile service providers to notify subscribers when they are about to incur extra usage charges for voice, text, data, or roaming.

But analysts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute urged the FCC not to interfere with market disputes and to instead turn its focus to the real obstacle to the wireless marketplace – the FCC’s own anti-consumer approach to spectrum allocation.

“Educating mobile subscribers about where to locate their up-to-date usage information – which all major wireless providers make available – is a far better solution to ‘bill shock’ than prescriptive federal regulation,” argued Ryan Radia, CEI Associate Director of Technology Studies.

Radia pointed out that some consumers’ frustration with current wireless pricing practices is hardly evidence that the mobile marketplace is failing. “To be sure, mobile carriers make occasional mistakes, and they need to work harder to ensure their customers stay well-informed,” Radia said. “But competitive forces are far better equipped than federal regulators to punish providers that engage in genuinely harmful practices or fail to satisfy consumers’ evolving preferences.”

In its efforts to address wireless bill disputes, the FCC purports to represent consumers’ interests; yet, Radia argued, the agency is harming consumers by delaying action to free up radio spectrum — the lifeblood of wireless communications.

“Consumers are suffering to the tune of billions of dollars each year on account of the FCC’s failure to free up radio spectrum for mobile communications,” Radia said. “Economists Thomas Hazlett and Roberto Munoz recently published a study finding that U.S. wireless prices would decline by 8% if the FCC were to allocate an additional 60mhz of spectrum to mobile telephony.”

“If the FCC genuinely cares about wireless subscribers, it should focus on aggressively freeing up the airwaves instead of comparatively trivial issues like bill shock.”