Big Government, Getting Up In Your Business

Here's your daily dose of big government oppression:

WASHINGTON — Users of cellphones and other wireless devices who are nearing their monthly limit for voice, text or data services will receive alerts when they are in danger of being charged extra, under an agreement reached by carriers and the Federal Communications Commission...

A 2010 study by the F.C.C. found that one in six mobile device users had experienced bill shock, with 23 percent of those users facing unexpected charges of $100 or more. A separate F.C.C. report noted that 20 percent of the bill shock complaints it received during the first half of 2010 were for $1,000 or more in overage charges. Expensive charges can also be incurred for roaming, when a user travels out of a company’s defined area of coverage or, as often occurs, when traveling overseas.

Even so-called unlimited data plans often have a cap limiting downloads each month to a certain number of megabytes — a technical measure that, unlike a number of calls or minutes, cannot easily be tracked by the uninitiated. Last October, the F.C.C. highlighted the case of a 66-year-old retiree in Dover, Mass., who received an $18,000 bill after a promotional no-limit data plan expired without warning.

I would really like to hear the Republican candidates for president get asked a simple question: Isn't this a good thing? You had an industry that was routinely screwing millions of customers with hidden fees and penalties, so the agency that regulates that industry stepped in and got them to stop, or at least set up a system that makes it less likely. Explain to us again how government action in the market is inevitably deleterious. We'll have to see how this solution works in practice, but presumably, if people are getting warnings that they're approaching their data or text limits, they'll be able to do something about it so they don't get hit with penalties.

And remember: The wireless companies want you to exceed your data limits, just like banks want you to overdraw your account. Then they can hit you with the penalties, which is basically free money for them. So pay attention when you get one of those alerts.