That sucker punch you feel when you’re hit with unexpected mobile bill overruns may soon go the way of the rotary phone.
The nation's biggest wireless carriers will soon begin sending out free alert messages to customers when they approach the monthly limits of their plan, as well as alerts when international roaming charges are about to be incurred, the FCC announced Monday.
"Last year, the FCC identified a growing problem known as bill shock and took important steps toward a solution, which led to today's victory for more than 97 percent of wireless consumers," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "These alerts will give consumers the information they need to save money on their monthly wireless bills."
The alert system, called Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines, is an agreement between the FCC and the CTIA, which represents carriers that serve 97% of wireless users.
The system is voluntary for carriers, but it was agreed upon in anticipation of a similar set of mandatory rules the FCC was primed to establish. The FCC has put those plans on indefinite hold, but if carriers don't satisfactorily comply with the new agreement, the commission could reopen talks of mandatory enforcement.
Still, some groups were miffed that the FCC agreed to a voluntary program in the first place.
"The FCC is charged by Congress to protect consumers and it should fulfill this mandate to write a rule that puts an end to outrageous monthly cell phone bills that rival the price of a new car," said Joel Kelsey, a political adviser for public interest group Free Press.
Under the new system, participating carriers must set up at least two of the four notifications for voice, data, texts and international roaming by Oct. 17 of next year, and must put into place the remaining alerts by April 17, 2013.
Follow reporter Tim Herrera on Twitter: @tim_herrera