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Wireless carriers to alert consumers before exceeding monthly limits

The Federal Communications Commission and major wireless carriers will jointly announce an industry-led program to warn consumers when they are reaching monthly limits on voice, texting and data services and incurring international roaming fees, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Analysts see the voluntary program as a victory for the wireless industry, which has lobbied against an FCC proposal that would have created a federal rule requiring the companies to help consumers avoid surprises in their cellphone bills.

On Monday, the FCC and trade group CTIA are expected to announce that wireless providers covering 97 percent of users have agreed to provide consumers with overage alerts, said the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans had not yet been announced. Warnings for four categories covered — voice, text, data and international roaming — will be implemented by April 17, 2013, according to the people.

The FCC on Friday declined a request to comment on the expected announcement and whether the industry effort will lead FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to drop his own regulatory proposal.

Consumer advocacy groups widely praised his proposal when it was announced a year ago. Genachowski’s initiative came as surveys showed how Americans were depending more on their mobile devices. With carriers trying to end unlimited data plans, consumers often became confused over how much data they can use in a given month without tripping penalty fees.

In a speech last year, Genachowski blasted examples of shocking monthly bills that reached into the thousands of dollars.

CTIA has represented the industry in fighting the “bill shock” proposal.

Although the FCC may not close the door completely on its regulatory proposal, some consumer advocates say self-policing by the industry won’t protect consumers.

“Asking the uncompetitive wireless industry to self-police itself is like asking an addict to self-medicate,” said Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst at the public interest group Free Press. “The FCC is charged by Congress to protect consumers, and they should use their authority to write a rule that puts an end to $16,000 monthly cellphone bills.”

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.



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