One month after questioning Verizon Wireless on its decision to hike early termination fees (ETFs) for subscriber contracts that cover smart phones, the FCC on Tuesday expanded its probe into ETFs with the delivery of letters to AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Sprint-Nextel, and Verizon that request details on the ETF practices of each company. The letters form part of a broader agency inquiry into ETFs that was launched last year. Last November, the ETF issue came to a head with Verizon’s controversial decision to double ETFs on advanced services contracts from $175 to $350. That move spurred the introduction of Senate legislation that would limit the imposition of wireless ETFs. Google—which disclosed that Nexus One handset users who sign up for services with T-Mobile would be charged an “equipment recovery fee” of $350 in addition to T-Mobile’s ETF of $200 when canceling contracts early in the two-year term—also received a letter from the FCC, which noted that “consumers have been surprised by this policy and by its financial impact.” Recognizing that “wireless carriers may have various rationales for ETFs,” the FCC told each of the letter recipients that its intention is to determine whether consumers “are adequately informed” about ETFs, particularly as “these fees are substantial (and in some cases are increasing) and have an important impact on consumers’ ability to switch carriers.” Declaring it “essential that consumers fully understand what they are signing up for,” the FCC asked each carrier to explain (1) how ETFs are disclosed to customers, (2) the plans associated with ETFs, (3) the amounts charged, (4) whether (and how much) ETFs are pro-rated over the life of the contract, and (5) whether higher ETFs are charged for certain devices. Each carrier is required to respond by February 23. Although FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Joel Gurin stressed that the FCC’s goal “is to make the practice of imposing [ETFs] clear, understandable and transparent,” an official of wireless association CTIA said, “we hope that there is a recognition by the FCC that these fees are part of the rate and rate structure that allows wireless carriers to . . . subsidize phone purchases.” The official added that “consumers of all of the carriers that received letters from the FCC have multiple options when it comes to choosing plans and devices without [ETFs].”