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FCC delays wireless phone billing decision

Federal regulators put a long-awaited ruling on mobile phone billing on hold, delaying a decision that could help kick-start the U.S. wireless industry.

Federal regulators put a long-awaited ruling on mobile phone billing on hold today, delaying a decision that could help kick-start the U.S. wireless industry.

The Federal Communications Commission is deciding whether or not to change the way many wireless phone customers pay for their calls, adopting a model many analysts say has been responsible for Europe's meteoric rise in cellular phone use.

Under the proposed "calling party pays" plan, the person who picks up the phone and dials would be billed for the call. In the United States today, the person who receives a call usually has to pay for the airtime. The proposed plan would particularly help low-income callers, who are afraid to turn on cell phones for fear of receiving calls and the subsequent high phone bills, some companies say.

U.S. mobile phone companies, which have long looked enviously at high mobile phone usage rates in Europe and Asia, have been eyeing the FCC's decision.

But calling plans like AT&T's Digital One Rate have muted the drive for the new payment plan. Under systems like Digital One, a subscriber gets a large number of local or long-distance minutes for a flat price, making the per-minute billing system less important.

Several carrier trials of the billing system are still under way, and the FCC is looking closely at the results of these tests.

The agency hasn't scheduled a new date to resolve the issue, but said it could make a decision any time.