Senate Bill 1161 would strip the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)’s ability to protect all phone customers who use wireless (since wireless providers offer broadband and IP-enabled services) or VOIP (think Vonage) or IP–enabled technologies (like Skype). The impact on consumers may not be entirely apparent now, but as traditional services are replaced with new technologies, consumers will eventually find that the CPUC can no longer back them up.
One of the consumer protections the CPUC has provided has been against cramming. Cramming has known for decades and recently, there have been efforts to curb the rampant unauthorized third party charges. After decades of consumer complaints which led to a Senate Commerce report which found that “[t]elephone companies place approximately 300 million third-party charges on their customers‘ bills each year, which amount to more than $2 billion worth of third-party charges on telephone bills every year,” the FCC issued rules to help clamp down on this practice, and the FTC’s filing for $52.6 million from the largest third-party billing company.
But, the FCC’s recent cramming rules don’t do enough to address what happens if a consumer finds charges they didn’t make on their wireless bill.
Consumer advocates, including us, have asked the FCC to extend cramming protections to wireless. The upside for Californians is that the CPUC already established a rule in late 2010 that gives consumers the ability to block third party charges, and does not require them to pay for them during an investigation for landline and wireless bills. This protection will become even more important as consumers begin to widely adopt and use the option to buy digital goods (and someday physical goods) using their wireless numbers.
There are a lot of powerful forces behind SB 1161. According to the LA Times, AT&T wields a lot of influence inSacramento. A recent article reported that “no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T.
California consumers need to be aware of the protections that will disappear if SB 1161 passes. California can continue to be a leader in developing new technologies AND provide consumers who use these technologies and services with adequate protections.