Wireless companies would prefer forcing customers to opt out of every single third-party gopher hole they stumble over, rather than adopting the FTC's more consumer-friendly blanket ban on third-party charges creeping into phone bills.
Verizon told the FCC that it would be too much of a hassle for people to have to lift the block any time they actually wanted a third-party service.
"This additional step would be inconvenient for customers and could deter them from participating in the mobile marketplace," the company said.
That concern would be a whole lot more believable if Verizon and AT&T weren't profiting from third-party charges. As it stands, they're probably pocketing many millions of dollars a year from crammers.
Lane Kasselman, an AT&T spokesman, called the company's share of cramming charges a fee for billing services. He declined to say how much of each charge is claimed by the phone company.
Ken Muche, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, also declined to specify how much his company takes from the likes of Ringtunecloud.com.
As for Chao's experience, he said, Verizon monitors third-party service providers, "and when we notice a pattern of problems from any particular provider, we work to rectify the issue — fast."
Muche said Verizon customers can go online and block various forms of mobile content from reaching their cellphones. This, he said, would prevent cramming charges from reaching their bills.
What happened to Chao proves that notion wrong.
I tried to reach someone at Ringtunecloud.com, but that proved impossible. There's a phone number buried in the company's online terms of service, but it wouldn't let me get anywhere close to a human being.
I tried to send an email from the site, but it required that I include a wireless number, and there was no way I was giving these jokers access to my cellphone.
The FCC shouldn't hesitate to follow the recommendations of its regulatory cousin, the FTC, which has ample experience with scams of all stripes.
Along with suggesting that consumers be able to block all third-party charges from their phone bill, the FTC is encouraging wireless providers to provide easy-to-follow instructions for dealing with the problem.
These are no-brainers.
Then again, maybe the phone companies have bigger fish to fry. It's no secret that these guys hope their smartphones will one day replace credit and debit cards as the main conduit for cashless purchases.
My hunch is that the industry is trying to keep new regulations at bay because it doesn't want anything hindering this brave — and lucrative — new world of mobile phone payments.
But the companies should remember that people will use mobile services only if they trust them. The more the industry allows the Ringtunecloud.coms of this world to mess with their customers, the more they're just shooting themselves in the foot.