The FCC: Why Did Verizon Wireless Wait So Long to Make Refunds?

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Verizon Wireless storeVerizon Wireless announced Sunday that it plans to refund up to $90 million in overbilling for "mistaken past data charges" that occurred over the past several years, but Federal Communications Commission officials say that doesn't get Verizon (VZ) off the hook.

Verizon says it erroneously billed about 15 million customers for data sessions their phones didn't initiate. And how did Verizon know it was in the wrong? These phones didn't have subscriptions for data plans. Despite that, the phones could still engage in minor data exchanges. Other customers were mistakenly allowed to access certain Web pages, Verizon says.

The carrier says most of the refunds will amount to just a few dollars and will be automatically credited back to customers' accounts. Explains Verizon in its statement:
In October and November, we are notifying about 15 million customers, through their regular bill messages, that we are applying credits to their accounts due to mistaken past data charges. We will mail former customers refund checks. In most cases, these credits are in the $2 to $6 range; some will receive larger credits or refunds.
Verizon's standard data plan charges $1.99 per megabyte. Customers probably don't want to leave it up to Verizon to see if they're eligible for a refund, so it would be wise, if possible, to look at past phone bills to see if a data charge was assessed on accounts that weren't signed up for data services.

Additional Penalties?

Still, the FCC says it plans to investigate why it took Verizon two years to notify customers of the problem, reimburse them and take corrective action, according to a CNBC report.

The report, citing a statement from FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison, says: "The Enforcement Bureau will continue to explore these issues, including the possibility of additional penalties, to ensure that all companies prioritize the interests of consumers when billing problems occur."

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The FCC has been receiving hundreds of consumer complaints over the past three years regarding allegations of Verizon Wireless data overcharges, according to a New York Timesreport. Complaints ranged from data-use charges when phones weren't in use to inadvertently hitting a button that launched the browser.

The Times says Verizon had told the FCC in December that it wasn't charging customers whose Web browser accidentally connected to the Verizon Wireless Mobile Web page if the connection was immediately canceled. But Verizon has has apparently changed that stance.
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