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Rule Eases Comparison Of Cell Phone Charges

FCC's Standard Supersedes States'

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page E10

The Federal Communications Commission passed an order yesterday that it hopes will make cell phone bills easier to understand by setting a national standard for how charges are explained.

The new rule supersedes individual states' regulations, enabling consumers to compare "apples to apples" among various cell phone carriers, an FCC spokeswoman said.

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The FCC said cell phone carriers may not represent line-item service charges in a manner that suggests they are taxes or government-required charges.

Democratic FCC commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein disagreed that the state regulations should be superseded. States ought to be able to impose additional regulations on cell phone bills on top of the new federal standards in an attempt to make them clearer, the Democrats said.

"By removing the states' role here, the FCC has set itself up as the sole arbiter of line item charges," Adelstein said in a written statement.

"I'm afraid consumers will remember that when they called this commission for help understanding their phone bills, we hung up," Copps said in a written statement.

However, Chairman Michael K. Powell noted that yesterday's ruling also calls for public comment on further ways to make cell phone bills easier to understand, a process that will include the states.

"Indeed, like our approach to voice over Internet protocol, we envision an active state partnership in enforcing whatever further rules and guidelines are adopted in this proceeding," Powell said in a written statement.

Several state public service commissions applauded the ruling.

"I commend the FCC for its decision to apply a uniform, national set of billing standards to the wireless carriers," Connie Murray, commissioner of the Missouri Public Service Commission, said in a written statement.

"I believe that the FCC has acted wisely to ensure that wireless customers in every state are protected by uniform rules requiring transparency in billing, rather than a fragmented system which would allow certain charges to be hidden in one state, but subject to required disclosure in another," Kentucky Public Service Commission Vice Chairman Ellen Williams said in a written statement.

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