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Undersecretary Barbara AnthonyPosted by:
Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

Your cell phone bill is likely just a shadow of its former self, and while companies may be saving bucks on printing and mailing, customers are losing convenience and an accustomed service.

These days, consumers are being nickeled-and-dimed for newly invented (although not always mandatory) fees from various service providers. Unfortunately, the nickels and dimes add up to real dollars at a time when so many families are struggling just to make ends meet.
In the last year or so, all of the major cell phone companies have taken steps to eliminate detailed paper bills – remember, back in the old days they’d list every call and text message sent from your phone – and instead have started sending summaries. The most aggressive changes have been at T-Mobile. As of mid-September, the company instituted a $1.50 charge per month for any customer who still wanted to receive a paper bill by mail. And, if the consumer needed a detailed, itemized bill, that would cost an additional $1.99 a month. So just to find out how the company arrived at your total cell phone bill, consumers are now being asked to pay as much as $3.49 a month. Consumers can, however, opt-out of paper bills and choose to receive them only online, and that option is free.

T-Mobile isn’t alone. In their terms and conditions posted online, ATT, Sprint and Verizon all note they are mailing summary bills to customers, and will send detailed bills for additional cost. Verizon and AT&T charge about $2 a month for a detailed bill.

This approach can discriminate against those families who are not connected to the Internet at home. And it certainly is unreasonable to expect consumers to visit their public library every month just to access a computer to find out how much they owe on their phone bills.

What these companies are doing is shifting the cost and effort of receiving a bill to their customers. So we now have to fetch it online, and print a copy for our records. That is a time-consuming nuisance for many, and we generally are not being rewarded for having to make this extra effort.

It is great if companies want to go “green” and encourage people to switch to online billing by offering them a financial incentive to do so. Sprint, in fact, offers a $5 service credit to customers who go online billing. However, charging people extra to receive their monthly bill in the traditional way puts an unfair burden on many families.

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