Cell phone companies ring true?

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2008

Consumer Reports published the results of a survey in its January 2008 edition, reflecting an industry which receives the lowest rating in the U.S. economy. So how do cell phone companies compare in Juneau? Only a bare majority of users seemed satisfied with their service, but it appears the tide is turning.

Topping the list of complaints in Consumer Reports were the early termination fees. While it is reasonable for cell phone providers to recover the cost of the cell phones, the phone should be a transferable asset and bought and sold separately from the cell phone service provider. Seen any cell phones at the local stores? The only cell phones offered in the Juneau's retail market are pre-pay plans that are quite competitive to contract rates.

The second complaint is the mandatory contract. ACS has finally gotten off that wagon, offering three month contracts if you already own your own phone. AT&T, however, requires a two-month commitment even if you own the phone! Following close are complaints for the usage charges when a user goes over the minimum. Providers have responded by offering pre-pay plans that are reasonably competitive with contract plans and are ideal for teenagers and anyone else who has a hard time budgeting usage on a cell phone.

And regarding time limits, some companies (including AT&T) are offering roll-over minutes. Cell phone companies over-use charges are horrendous. I had a teenage daughter who was usually very responsible in using a cell phone. But twice during one year she went over the limit and the bills jumped 50 percent and 300 percent!

There is a lot of bait and switch in the business. Take for instance voice mail. It accrues a one-minute charge each time it is touched. It gobbles up minutes. I know folks who simply let the voice mail fill up. Isn't it ridiculous that you are forced to not use a service because you are slapped with a minute rate that is higher than a long-distance charge to Russia?

Consumer Reports found that there are 100 class-action lawsuits in the pipeline trying to end this madness. But it shouldn't take a lawyer for you to simply show up, make a clear complaint and simply say no. Buy prepaid minutes, refuse to commit to long-term contracts and keep your phone. You also can check out the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. Type "cell phone class action lawsuits" into your browser's search engine and watch it light up like a Christmas tree.

Keep it out of court. Complain, but don't yell at the sales clerk. They are only doing their job. Put it in writing, and talk to supervisors and management. Tell them what you are thinking. And most importantly, don't give them the business if it is unfair. Try the pre-paid plans offered by local retailers. Don't commit to a multi-year contract if you are not purchasing a phone.

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