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April 15, 1999

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format

Ignorance is not bliss. Confusing or misleading bills from communications carriers are not good for consumers, or for competition. This agency does have a role to play in making sure that bills are fair, reasonable, and intelligible.

When we initiated this proceeding last September, I expressed my hope that the Notice would enable us to work with carriers, consumers, and other governmental entities to improve the billing process. I have been encouraged by the progress that has resulted. Many in industry have stepped up to their responsibility to improve their bills to make them more intelligible, more consumer-friendly. Slamming and cramming will be easier to detect, and therefore will be less likely to occur in the first place.

At the same time, the rules we are adopting have sufficient flexibility to allow for individualized experimentation by carriers. As new services and bundles are brought to market, we need not -- and do not -- prevent carriers from crafting their bills in creative ways that meet their competitive needs, so long as consumers' fundamental rights are protected.

I remain concerned about the prospect for misleading line items. Additional changes lie ahead in universal service and access charges, and we have already seen how some carriers have exploited the occasion of change to confuse consumers and, in some instances, to increase aggregate charges even as aggregate costs are declining. Competition should go a long way to ensuring that consumers get more, and pay less. But continued vigilance on billing practices will be essential to ensure that consumers are not misled or mistreated.

Finally, I see no inherent reason why wireless carriers should not be subject to the same general obligation as wireline carriers to render bills that are fair, clear, and truthful. But I am mindful that the billing practices of wireless carriers have generated only an incredibly small number of complaints. Given that any rules -- even flexible ones -- impose some costs (which ultimately are paid by consumers), I am reluctant to establish any requirements to cure a non-existent problem. For this reason, at this time, I am inclined to forbear from applying most of the specific rules we promulgate today to wireless carriers.