If you're an American wireless provider founded in 1978, here's your horoscope for today: avoid US regulatory agencies, customers whom you've charged for text messages without asking, and burly-looking men with open burlap sacks and insistent expressions. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Communications Commission intends to fine Sprint $105 million in punishment for sending unwanted text messages to its customers, then sticking them with the bill.
The report says that the FCC is focusing on a three-month window in the fall of last year, during which the Commission received over 35,000 complaints from Sprint customers. The unwanted text messages included the usual carrier "alerts," ringtones, sports information, and even horoscopes, which the FCC says Sprint knowingly and willfully sent to customers with the intent to "cram" them with extra charges. At least a portion of the fine, calculated based on the volume and cost of the charges, would be reserved for affected Sprint customers to claim.
The investigation enlisted the help of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and various state Attorneys General, and the Wall Street Journal source claims that at least three of five FCC commissioners will vote in favor of the fine. It would tie a fine forced on AT&T for overbilling earlier this year as the largest in the Commission's history. For context, Sprint recorded a net income of $8.5 billion for the third quarter of this year, with an operating loss of $192 million - if the full fine was imposed it wouldn't be a crushing blow, but it wouldn't be a slap on the wrist, either.
The FCC has been on a pro-consumer march lately. Just last month it forced T-Mobile to adjust the way it reports wireless speeds to customers, direct criticism from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler probably played a part in Verizon Wireless reversing its decision to throttle unlimited data customers in October, and the FCC aided the Federal Trade Commission in investigating AT&T for deceptive advertising of its "unlimited" data services, also in October. If you're keeping score, that means the FCC has put pressure on all of the Big Four wireless providers in the US in the last two months.
Source: The Wall Street Journal