13 July 2011

Senate Probe: 'Mystery' Fees on Phone Bills Charge Billions to Consumers

Y'know, I didn't quite start this blog to be a wide-eyed evangelist for Roll-Your-Own-VoIP, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. And articles like this fuel the fire:
Third-party billing firms are charging Americans up to $2 billion a year in "unauthorized fees" on their landline telephone bills, generating massive profits for the nation's largest telephone companies that don't do nearly enough to crack down on the practice, a Senate Commerce Committee investigation has found.

Most consumers don't even detect the charges for months or years, if at all, because they typically range from $2 to $20 on their monthly bills. But when consumers and businesses do complain to telephone companies, they often get the runaround. [Fox News] [Hat tip: Alex]
Call away, it's cheap.  Just don't tax my VoIP!
This actually happened to me on my cell line: mysterious charges, three bucks here and ten bucks there, buried in the monthly bill.  Once I thought to print out my full cell bill to get to the bottom of it, and gave up after 20 pages of printing with more than ninety to go!  (Kudos to AT&T for quickly figuring out what was going on, stopping it, and refunding my  money.)

My VoIP bill, by comparison, is immune to such shenanigans.  My VoIP provider, voip.ms, provides up-to-the-minute online listings of all charges and usage.  The listings are searchable by date and by subaccount (e.g., by extension) and are readily understood, in part because there's so little tax-and-fee argle-bargle that I'm sure most consumers find as baffling as I do on our landline and cell bills.  The "third-party billing firms" mentioned in the article hide in the tall grass of all those fees and imposts.

Plus, voip.ms' way of doing things currently involves paying up a balance and then whittling it down with usage.  You get an email when it's time to replenish.  One benefit of this approach is that you're never on the hook for anything more than your balance.  If someone were to somehow hack into my account and run up a bill to Timbuktu, my maximum risk is the $17.86 currently on balance in my account.  And the call would take a while given the low costs of VoIP (23c/min to Timbuktu from the US).


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