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As end to unlimited data nears, Verizon touts Usage Controls

New video gives users quick way to track voice and data

Verizon Wireless released a new video today reminding customers about Verizon's $5-a-month Usage Control service, which can help parents and others control voice, text and data usage per line.

The three-year-old service, described in a Verizon press release and the video, comes amid growing concerns by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about openness in voice and data billing practices. Verizon is expected to end its unlimited data service this summer, meaning customers will need to pay attention to data use to avoid overage charges.

In addition, a federal lawsuit filed in January against Verizon competitor AT&T argues that AT&T is overbilling iPad and iPhone customers for data with overnight usage charges and "phantom traffic." AT&T disputes the claims and plans to fight that suit, noting recently in televised reports on the Today show and elsewhere that some data passes to and from a device overnight to update applications and other software.

Tools like Usage Controls could help Verizon and its customers reduce uncertainty about some voice and data charges. Verizon recently announced free data monitoring tools with a data widget through My Verizon Mobile. Verizon CIO Ajay Waghray described the tools in a March interview.

The Usage Controls give an account holder three separate tools: Usage Allowances, Time Restrictions and Block Numbers.

With Usage Allowances, customers can set limits for voice minutes and text messages used during a monthly billing cycle. Verizon will send a free text message alert when the limit is approaching or has been reached.

With Time Restrictions, parents and others can limit and control voice, text and data usage during certain times of day and days of the week.

With Blocked Numbers, customers can restrict the sending or receiving of calls or messages to and from as many as 20 telephone numbers. Calls to 911 always go through, but 411 and other numbers can be blocked.

The Usage Controls charge is $4.99 a month per line, and will appear on a customer's monthly bill.

In addition to pressure from the FCC and from lawsuits, carriers are also setting internal controls on usage, with AT&T last year setting data limits that Verizon has said it will impose this summer. Verizon last week also said it is weighing a plan to allow families to pool data bytes just as they pool voice minutes.

A spokesman for Verizon said today that Usage Controls have been available for three years, adding that the latest statement about them is linked to a new video, all part of "working to make [controls] better and keep customers informed of them." He said the press release and the accompanying video "are part of a series over the past two months about Verizon's Wireless' ongoing efforts to provide customers with tools they can use to manage their wireless lives."

Verizon noted that summer vacations give young mobile users more time for using apps and games and making calls and sending texts.

The video notes that mobile users can quickly check voice minutes and data used without entering the separate My Verizon Mobile application. To check voice minutes, Verizon users can enter #MIN (#646) and click "send" to get a voice and free text response. To check data, a Verizon user can enter #DATA (#3282) and click "send" to get data usage information.

More detailed information about accounts if available through My Verizon online or My Verizon Mobile.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

Read more about mobile apps and services in Computerworld's Mobile Apps and Services Topic Center.


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