U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, announced Friday that he is expanding his campaign against unfair and inflated telephone bills by introducing legislation to protect consumers once and for all from unauthorized mystery charges being placed on their telephone bills.
Rockefeller already has led a yearlong committee investigation into the issue, which showed it's been a problem of epidemic proportions, costing millions of American consumers billions of dollars in unauthorized third-party charges over the past decade. As a result of the effort, several of the nation's biggest phone companies voluntarily altered their billing practices to ensure unauthorized phone charges no longer appear on landline phones in West Virginia and across the country.
However, they could restart the process at any time - and some companies have not yet followed suit. And it's still unclear what phone companies are doing to stop unauthorized charges on wireless devices, as the number of complaints related to wireless phone bills doubled between 2008 and 2010.
Rockefeller decided to write legislation that would guarantee the practice comes to a halt on both landlines and wireless devices.
"Nearly every American household receives a telephone bill, and millions of these bills include unwanted charges that were never authorized," Rockefeller said in a news release. "I've heard from West Virginia consumers and business owners who have lost money from these offensive charges and they absolutely must stop. I think this is an issue everyone can agree on and my bill would put an end to these mystery charges once and for all - on both landline phones and personal wireless devices. No one should have to pay for a service they never approved or never used."
In response to the committee's investigation, AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink have taken positive steps to eliminate unauthorized charges on landline telephone bills, including a recent decision to stop allowing the placement of most third-party charges on landline telephone bills. Rockefeller also sent letters to four U.S. wireless telephone companies on June 13 to better understand the magnitude of third-party charges on wireless telephone bills and what is being done to protect consumers from unauthorized charges.
Rockefeller's Fair Telephone Billing Act will make sure that all telephone companies are required to take the same steps. If passed, it will ban fraudulent third-party charges on landline phone bills and make sure that consumers are protected from any unauthorized charges on their wireless bills.
The Senate Commerce Committee has identified West Virginia residents, businesses and even government agencies that have been victimized by companies sneaking fees onto telephone bills. In addition, state offices have received numerous complaints from residents who are the victims of those unfair practices.
More information is available online at rockefeller.senate.gov.