WASHINGTON — Verizon Wireless has agreed to pay at least $53 million to customers who were charged "mystery" fees for data and will take steps to make its bills easier to read, the federal government said Thursday.
Verizon will also pay a $25 million fine to the U.S. Treasury.
New York-based Verizon, the nation's largest wireless phone carrier, was accused of overcharging up to 15 million customers as far back as 2007.
The fees were typically assessed to subscribers without monthly data plans, who are required to pay $1.99 per megabyte. Those customers will now receive refunds.
"Today's consent decree sends a clear message to American consumers: The FCC has got your back," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said. "People shouldn't find mystery fees when they open their phone bills — and they certainly shouldn't have to pay for services they didn't want and didn't use."
The FCC said the mystery fees were triggered by applications built into phones, such as games, or involved "unwanted data transfers." Some customers also were charged for accessing supposedly free sites, such as the Verizon Wireless home page.
To prevent similar problems, the FCC will require Verizon to offer customers a way to block their devices from seeking access to data without their permission. In addition, subscribers would be granted a speedy appeals process to fight bills they view as unfair.
Verizon Wireless leads the industry with 93.2 million customers, just ahead of AT&T, which has 92.8 million customers.