Cell phone users to get warning before huge bill arrives

A Samsung phone, a Blackberry phone and an Iphone 4.

Jeremy Hobson: Now to the world of cell phones -- where today, we're going to get some treatment for what you might call "bill shock" -- the condition you may have experienced when you get a bill that ends up being much bigger than you expected.

Here to explain the magic elixir that is here to save us is Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman. He's with us live. Good morning.

Mitchell Hartman: Hi, Jeremy.

Hobson: Hi. So tell us about the relief that's on the way.

Hartman: It's an agreement between the major cellphone carriers and the Federal Communications Commission. Over the next year, we'll start getting text or voice messages when we're about to go over our monthly limit.

What's happening is that as people's smartphones get smarter, they also become data hogs. It's not just the thousands of text messages that your teenager can rack up when they're supposed to be studying. It's everything that you get accessing the Internet, on your Android, or on your iPad: music, book downloads, streaming video, sometimes also international roaming charges. And you might not actually know that you've gone over the limit until you get that huge bill in the mail.

So now you'll get a warning from the company first -- which, of course, doesn't mean you'll stop web-surfing, just you know it's gonna cost you.

Hobson: Why is this happening, this relief for this, though? Is this really that big of a problem?

Hartman: You know, the FCC says it is. They've studied this; they say tens of millions of consumers get these overage charges every year. Sometimes it's 15, 30 bucks -- that's what happens when I go over my plan. But there are stories of people getting bills with over a $1,000 in extra charges. In one case, somebody got an $18,000 extra monthly bill.

This is a voluntary agreement; the industry is trying to avoid tough new regulations and it will be monitored by both Consumer's Union and the FCC.

Hobson: Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman. Thanks Mitchell.

Hartman: You're welcome.

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