Sprint Corp., a U.S. wireless carrier, likely faces a $105 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission over unauthorized text messages and other services charged on customers' cell phone bills.
Details on the fine and exact amount are expected in the coming weeks. The agency is reviewing Sprint's alleged unauthorized charges - known as "cramming" - and will vote on the proposed fine.
An FCC official confirmed that the agency is preparing to fine Sprint for billing customers for text message alerts, horoscopes, sports scores, ring tones and other unwanted services.
In October, AT&T Inc. agreed to pay an FCC record $105 million to settle similar cramming allegations in a case negotiated by the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission.
The FCCs probe focused on a three-month window from August to October 2013, during which Sprint reportedly received almost 35,000 complaints from consumers about unwanted charges. The FCC alleges Sprints actions were a willful violation. The National Journal was first to report the news of the planned fine for Sprint and FCC officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposed fine has not been made public.
It is not clear whether Sprint is in settlement talks with the FCC. Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge Walsh said the company does not comment on rumor and speculation.
The FCC also recently has been investigating cramming complaints against T-Mobile US Inc. The FTC in July filed a cramming complaint against T-Mobile in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
Prodded by state attorneys general, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Communications Inc. agreed in November to stop billing customers for third-party services.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in announcing AT&T's settlement in October, estimated that 20 million consumers a year are crammed.
According to the FTC's complaint against AT&T, in October 2011, the company altered its refund policy so that customer service representatives could only offer to refund two months' worth of charges to consumers who sought a refund, no matter how long the company had been billing customers for the unauthorized charges. Before then, AT&T had offered refunds of up to three months' worth of charges. At that time, AT&T characterized its change in policy as designed to "help lower refunds."
The structure of AT&Ts consumer bills compounded the problem of the unauthorized charges, according to the complaint, by making it difficult for customers to know that third-party charges were placed on their bills. On both the first page of printed bills and the summary of bills viewed online, consumers saw only a total amount due and due date with no indication the amount included charges placed on their bill by a third party. The complaint alleges that within online and printed bills, the fees were listed as "AT&T Monthly Subscriptions," leaving consumers to believe the charges were part of services provided by AT&T.