Rockefeller Introduces Telephone Bill Anti-Cramming Legislation

Legislation Introduced in Response to Year-Long Committee Investigation

June 14, 2012

SCom: InnovationWASHINGTON, D.C.— Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV has introduced S.3291, the Fair Telephone Billing Act of 2012, a bill to protect consumers from unauthorized third-party charges being placed on their telephone bills.  This practice, commonly referred to as “cramming,” was the subject of a year-long Senate Commerce Committee investigation which showed that cramming was a problem of epidemic proportions, costing millions of American consumers billions of dollars in unauthorized third-party charges over the past decade.

“Unauthorized charges on telephone bills have plagued telephone customers for years,” said Rockefeller. “And our investigation showed just how pervasive cramming is. It confirmed that third-party billing through wireline telephone bills has greatly harmed consumers.  It was a system rife with fraud.  With a couple exceptions, there’s simply no justification for allowing third-party billing on wireline telephone bills to continue.  This legislation will prohibit most third-party charges and will ensure that we put an end to cramming on wireline telephone bills once and for all.”

In response to the Committee’s investigation of third-party billing, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink have taken positive steps to eliminate cramming on wireline telephone bills, including a recent decision to stop allowing the placement of most third-party charges on wireline telephone bills.  The Fair Telephone Billing Act will ensure that all wireline telephone companies are required to take the same steps.  

The bill also directs the Federal Communications Commission to develop rules to ensure that wireless consumers are protected from unauthorized charges on their bills.

“It has become clear that cramming now extends to wireless bills,” said Rockefeller.  “And while we shouldn’t prohibit third-party billing on wireless bills in the way we’re doing it on wireline bills, now is the time for the FCC to create rules that ensure cramming on wireless bills is prevented.  We knew about wireline cramming in the 1990s.  In fact, it looked a lot like wireless cramming does right now.  We had the opportunity to put an end to wireline cramming back then and we chose not to.  Over the following decade, millions of consumers were harmed.  Let’s learn from the lessons of wireline cramming and address the vulnerabilities of wireless billing right now, before any more consumers are harmed by the shameful practice of cramming.”

The Fair Telephone Billing Act of 2012 would: 

  • Ban third-party charges on wireline telephone and interconnected VoIP bills, with exceptions for the legitimate third-party charges of telephone-related services, like collect calls, and “bundled” services, like satellite television services, that are jointly marketed with telephone services; and
  • Direct the Federal Communications Commission to create rules that would protect wireless consumers against cramming and ensure they are reimbursed for any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their wireless bills.