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After voting to impose a 50-cent 911 tax on prepaid phones and minutes in June, the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications faced nearly immediate requests to repeal it from state legislators. Their argument is that prepaid users, for the most part, comprise those who have a lesser ability to pay this tax. While no decision has been made yet, we learned yesterday that the commission will hear additional comments on the issue.
June 16th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
As much as we love it, the state of prepaid in the U.S. isn’t at all impressive when compared with the rest of the world. Carriers here want nothing more than customers to sign on the dotted line, committing them for two years to the one service (and charging huge early termination fees in order to keep them around). They also lock down handsets to one carrier, making a switch harder. This is true in the prepaid realm as well. Things aren’t the same everywhere else, though, as Stefan from IntoMobile relates.
June 13th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Some less than pleasing news from the State of Massachusetts. The state House Ways and Means Committee has passed a bill which will require retailers to not only procure a photo ID from anyone buying a prepaid phone, but to keep the record on file for two years. They will also be required to send a copy to the state attorney general. While some believe that this will help curb the use of prepaid phones by terrorists and drug traffickers, there are quite a few arguments positing that this will only hurt people in the long run.
May 27th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
This is such a common practice in the U.S. that I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened already. Every cell carrier — or nearly every one, at least — advertises “free” phones. Of course, there’s always a catch. Many times, you have to pay for the phone, and mail in a rebate. In addition, you have to sign a two-year contract, which is anything but free. The Oregon attorney general doesn’t seem to think this is all that fair, and has reached a settlement with U.S. Cellular that will force them to spell out their promotions.
May 20th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Exclusive deals between carriers and handset manufacturers has been a staple of the U.S. wireless industry. Manufacturer creates hot new handset, shops it around to carriers, and picks the one that gives them the best deal. This means more money for the manufacturer, since exclusive contracts cost more. And once the contract is up, the buzz is created, meaning people on other networks are eager to buy it up. Smaller, rural carriers loathe this practice, though, and it’s tough to blame them. What manufacturer is going to give an exclusive to a company with just over a million subscribers? Well, they’ve had enough, and are asking the FCC to look into the anti-competitiveness of these deals.
April 29th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Unless you work for a wireless carrier, it’s difficult to not support the practice of unlocking phones. It means that the phone you purchased is truly yours. You can take it to a compatible carrier of your choice, without having to pay the new carrier for yet another handset. There are just a couple of problems. First, it’s not always easy to unlock handsets — and newer phones are further complicating the issue. Second, there are only two GSM carriers in the U.S. and one in Canada. While there are a select few GSM MVNOs, options are still limited. In any case, there’s a new device on the market, called SIMable, a chip that attaches to your SIM card, rendering it unlocked.
April 25th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
This AP article talks about Americans cutting back on any expense they can in order to make ends meet as financial times get tougher and tougher. Just because we’ve been talking about it lately: “And, she’s considering cutting off their cell phone service or moving to a prepaid plan, to reduce expenses.” I suspect a lot of people will opt to go this route. It’s unfortunate that things have come to this, but at least we do have prepaid cell options so we don’t have to go completely without a phone.
April 21st, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Apparently, throwing away your cellphone isn’t just environmentally hazardous, it’s downright wasteful. ReCellular, an electronics stability firm, is working on a
April 18th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Since we were on the topic of talking while driving earlier this week, I figured this would be of some interest. Via the Wirefly blog, a list of cell phone driving laws in every state. This can be particularly useful if you’re planning an interstate trip. The last thing you want to be is someone with out of state plates violating the local cell phone laws. Think you’ll get banged with the maximum ticket? Damn straight you will.
April 16th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Two topics we’ve long spoken of from the consumer standpoint are the practices of subsidizing and locking phones. There are various reasons given for each practice, but both come down to the carrier maintaining some amount of control over what is used on their network. Virgin Mobile CEO Dan Schulman recently spoke with Fierce Wireless, and this topic came up.
April 15th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
It might seem obvious, but a new study shows that children are distracted while on their phones, and therefore are at a far greater risk of being struck by a vehicle when crossing a street. This covers children aged 10 to 12, who were put to task through a virtual simulation. This was repeated six times with a cell phone, and six without. And, unsurprisingly, the children couldn’t walk and
chew gum talk on their cell phones.
April 15th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
We’ve seen a number of states adopt stricter talking-while-driving laws lately. In my state, it has been classified as a Type A offense. That is, if an officer sees you on your phone, he can pull you over for just that. Previously, it was a secondary offense — where they could pull you over for a bum taillight and issue you a second ticket for talking on your phone. This doesn’t seem to deter many people. I see people with their handsets to their ears all the time. Clearly, the new legislation isn’t working. But what if insurance companies stepped in?
March 18th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
So it appears the economy isn’t doing too hot. Without getting into the specifics, we’re seeing a meltdown of the subprime mortgage lending practice. This has led to all sorts of messes, including the recent buyout of investment bank Bear Stearns. Virgin Mobile actually cited the country’s economic downturn when it reported its less than stellar fourth quarter sales. Not only that, but they predicted that these economic conditions would continue to hamper their efforts in 2008.
March 14th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Caught this story over on Consumerist, and I thought I’d bring it up, since it is clearly an issue in the prepaid realm. When you buy a phone, as when you buy any product, there is a certain window in which you can return said phone. However, since it is an electronic device and the carrier stands to lose money from a return, these periods are usually rather short — 14 days most of the time. Watch out, though, for simple tricks the carriers might play during that period. They might seem generous, but it could hurt you in the long run.
March 7th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Over last summer, I used to look for cell phone consumer issues every Friday. Yeah, we go over them throughout the course of the week, but those are usually larger issues. This is a smaller one — $5 small, but hey, 5 dollars is 5 dollars. In any case, it appears that AT&T is testing a program starting on Tuesday whereby customers who pay their bills over the phone are charged a $5 fee. This actually isn’t uncommon — I know many credit card companies that charge you to call them and pay your bill. However, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.
February 26th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
There’s an excellent article over at NetworkWorld by Craig Mathias, regarding the new unlimited plans and their place in the wireless landscape. He spends much of the article talking about competition and price wars, plus how the unlimited plans, given a reduced rate, could come to replace landlines. I’m all on board with that, and have discussed it a few times in the past week. Another profound effect of unlimited plans by the major carriers, notes Mathias, is that it might entice more customers to choose prepaid.
February 25th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
There’s a great report over at mocoNews about consumers’ qualms in regards to mobile shopping. It’s an inevitable development, for sure, but for the time being there are some concerns that will keep it from rolling out on a widespread basis. Fear, of course, plays into this: Fear of identity theft and fear of location tracking. And then there’s the complexity of the devices themselves, which are a turn-off to many consumers who otherwise would embrace mobile shopping. These fears can be alleviated, though, so we should see some progress in the industry soon. But for now, this is why we’re seeing little to no movement.
February 18th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
When you study the wireless industry, you see a number of studies released about the effects of mobile phone usage. Ever since phones became popular, people have been concerned about the possible health risks these portable devices pose. So we look to scientists to help us answer these questions. Sometimes they say that cell phones cause a lack of sleep or a low sperm count. Now I’m seeing a study that claims a 50 percent greater risk of developing a parotid gland tumor.
February 1st, 2008 | Consumer Issues | 5 Comments
By this point, we know that certain companies will only sell you one or two prepaid phones at a time. It’s company policy, but a few retailers are trying to pass it off as law, which it is not. For now. Senator John Carona from Texas has proposed, among many other restrictions, a purchase limit of three prepaid cell phones at a time. This is in response to gangs and drug dealers who use prepaid phones as a means of business.
January 23rd, 2008 | Consumer Issues | 1 Comment
I’ve never made any mistake about my contempt for mandatory arbitration clauses in cell phone contracts. There’s no secret why companies prefer them: They win 98 percent of decisions. So if you’ve been wronged by your cell phone company, you are not entitled to a trial by a jury of your peers — according to them. Even if thousands of other people were wronged in the same fashion. It’s monkey court for the lot of you. But maybe not for much longer. Following the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that Cingular’s arbitration clause was unenforceable (linked above), they now say that T-Mobile’s is not enforceable under Washington state law.
January 21st, 2008 | Consumer Issues | 2 Comments
I’m going to preface this by noting that I don’t buy into this report. I’ve had to use my mobile phone increasingly lately, due to an increasing number of related projects. I’ve also slept better than I have in my entire life since basically the beginning of the new year. So take this with a grain of salt: Researchers in the U.S. and Sweden have found that people “exposed to mobile phone radiation experienced headaches, change of moods, confusion and trouble sleeping.” Apparently, I’m not one of the 38 in 71 that have this experience.
January 18th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
I just want to start by saying this is not guaranteed. This is just a story I picked up from Consumerist, since it regards T-Mobile and cell phone contracts, two topics covered here. As expected, a reader of theirs couldn’t get out of his contract, even though he had moved to New York city, where T-Mobile’s service is notoriously crappy. I have a few friends with T-Mo in New York, and they’re all counting the days until their contracts expire. Well, Consumerist has a story of one person who got out of his.
January 16th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | 1 Comment
There was some talk over this past sumer about the ineffectiveness of cell phone recycling programs. There is a great hazard in throwing your cell phone in the trash. Not only are you wasting parts that can be used in other devices, but the environmental effects are akin to throwing away batteries. There are a few companies that encourage recycling, such as Virgin Mobile, and AT&T, who promote Cell Phones for Soldiers. Now we have third parties getting into the mix, like Recycling for Charities.
January 9th, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
It seems that people are no longer content with normal voicemail services. Back in the day, when cell phones really hit the mainstream, it was so cool to be able to retrieve voice messages right from our own phones. Remember the first time you picked your phone out of your pocket in public and announced, “I have a voicemail!”? Well, that novelty has completely worn off. A survey of 3,300 North American cell users has spoken, and it amounts to the want for better voicemail services.
January 3rd, 2008 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Many of you know me as the big scrooge — the guy who abhors people talking on their phones and driving. Some thing I should “lighten up” on the issue, but the fact is that it’s simply not safe. And while we like to live on the envelope of life, needlessly putting others in harm’s way is never a good idea. Hence, we don’t like the use of handsets while driving. A new study shows that not only does talking on your phone make you a worse driver, but it actually adds up to 20 hours a year to your commute. So much for saving time while talking and driving.
January 3rd, 2008 | AT&T, Consumer Issues | 11 Comments
We’ve gotten a number of emails over the past few weeks asking why our AT&T GoPhone review doesn’t mention that they now have unlimited talk and unlimited text. At first, these emails were confusing. Since when did AT&T go the way of Cricket, MetroPCS, and Boost Unlimited? We browsed around AT&T’s GoPhone page, but found nothing of the sort.
But then, during a rare occasion where I was watching TV, I saw an AT&T GoPhone ad — incidentally, starring Norm MacDonald and Steve Buscemi — where they advertised unlimited talk and unlimited text. This threw me for a loop for a moment. Watch the commercial yourself and see what you think:
December 28th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
If you’re one of the remaining million or so cell phone users with an analog handset, it’s time to think of upgrading. If you don’t, you will find your phone non-operational on the morning of February 19. That’s the day that any remaining analog networks must be shut down. This affects major networks AT&T, Alltel, and Verizon, and any MVNOs (Tracfone) that work off their analog networks. If you’re unsure if your phone is digital or not, there are a few ways to make certain.
December 14th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | 2 Comments
Remember earlier in the week when we reported on big carriers holding back on short codes? Well, now we find that Rebtel, the company who uses short codes to make cheap international calls, has announced their support of a petition that names the refusal to provide short codes “unjust and unreasonable discrimination, and violates the law.” Looks like Rebtel is sending out feelers to see if it has a legitimate lawsuit on its hands.
December 14th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
This is something we’re surprised has taken this long to address. Out in Michigan, they’re finally extending 911 fees to cell phone users. Previously, only landlines were subject to the monthly fee, which was 29 cents. Starting in the new year, though, the fee will be reduced to 19 cents, but will be levied on mobile phone accounts as well as landlines. Predictably, this measure passed by a wide margin in the state Senate and House.
December 12th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | 1 Comment
You’re all familiar with short codes, though you might not know it. When a company or show runs a promotion where you text message a vote — American Idol being the foremost example — you are sending your message to a five-digit number, rather than a full ten-digit one. This is a short code. Like many things we didn’t know about in years past, we’re figuring out useful ways to take advantage of these. And because you have to go through a phone carrier to use the short code, they’re trying to monopolize the medium.
December 7th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Prepaid Services | 25 Comments
Seriously, what does a senior citizen need with something like an LG Chocolate? The Bluetooths, MP3 players, digital cameras, and Internet browsers mean little to them — or most of them. So where is the alternative? GreatCall and their Jitterbug phones are here to fill this market niche. It was founded by Arlene Harris, whose family played a large role in the paging industry, and her husband Martin Cooper, “who’s considered the inventor or the first wireless handset.”
November 26th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Verizon Wireless | 5 Comments
The more we read about this issue of a Verizon monopoly in Vermont, the more interested we become. Now, we’ve seen that Verizon is turning on new towers, which is good, and they are trying to divest some of their interests in the area, which is also good — in theory. From what we gather, both through news reports and Vermonter friends, it appears that Verizon isn’t exactly divesting any of its hot commodities. Instead, it’s in the process of selling their DSL service in Vermont to Fairpoint Communications. So while we like divestment in this case, it seems lopsided for them to sell off DSL, a dying technology, while they hold better Internet technology in FiOS, which, given the potential monopoly, will likely become available in Vermont within the next year or so.
November 13th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, T-Mobile | 2 Comments
Good pickup by Consumerist here, using one of their inside sources. Word is that T-Mobile is now charging a fee of $18 to upgrade your phone. Yes, when your contract is up and you can gleefully walk to any provider you wish, T-Mobile is going to charge you an additional $18 to get a new phone. This is, in essence, $18 off the subsidy of a new phone. Subsidies are provided for customers who sign contacts.
November 12th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | 1 Comment
Yes, we understand that we have a bias towards prepaid service. We’re up front with that. So we don’t think it’s outlandish to think that a cell company can treat their prepaid customers with just an inkling of respect. However, as is often noted in our provider reviews, the level of customer service for prepaid is generally terrible. Not that postpaid CS is a gem or anything. Those times may be a changin’, though.
November 8th, 2007 | Canadian Wireless, Consumer Issues | No Comments
And we don’t blame them. After all, they are the country of outlandish mobile data rates. As a country, not only is Canada not happy with service, but they’re decreasingly so. Their satisfaction rating is down to 657 out of 1,000, from 675 in 2006. This is a decent drop-off from America’s satisfaction rating of 709, though we did see a similar drop-off from year to year.
November 6th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | 7 Comments
If we could only figure out a way to make this work. It was only a few days ago that we realized that the use of cell phone jammers had become widespread. Actually, it was just yesterday, when we read this article in the Times. We immediately fell in love with the idea, since we take public transportation frequently and find it horribly annoying when someone is yapping while we’re quietly trying to read. If we had a cell phone jammer, we’d be able to create some peace and quiet for us and our fellow commuters. We’d also run the risk of being arrested.
November 2nd, 2007 | Consumer Issues, T-Mobile | No Comments
It seems that every Friday we stumble across a cell phone story over at Consumerist. This week, it’s the story of a wronged T-Mobile customer. After signed up for the service, she was met with immediate problems. To be specific, she couldn’t receive calls and text messages sometimes didn’t go through. So basically she had huge alleys of communications cut of…yet was still paying for this lack of service. She spent time with customer service, who chalked it up to “network difficulties in New York City.” We’re familiar with those difficulties. We have a couple of friends in the city with T-Mobile, and more than once they’ve wanted to chuck their phones against the wall.
October 30th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
So now we know that wireless customer satisfaction is down. Why, though? We established that the area most in need of improvement is sales staff, so let’s start there. Oh, what’s that? MarketStar has released a report that might shed some light on that issue? How convenient. The results? “The study showed that less than half of sales associates actually recommended the brand of phone they currently own and use.”
October 30th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | 1 Comment
The headline really says it all. J.D. Power and Associates have released their semi-annual Wireless Retails Sales Satisfaction Study, and it appears that consumers are growing less and less satisfied with their wireless experience. The study measures four factors: sales staff, which counts for 51 percent, store display, 17 percent, store facility, 16 percent, and price/promotion, 16 percent. Scores were down in all areas, especially the top spot. Overall, satisfaction is down to 709 out of 1,000, down seven since the May report and 12 points from last October’s. Allow us to share an anecdote to illustrate why we’re not surprised at all.
October 29th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Sprint | 1 Comment
As a result of class action suits in California and Florida, Sprint will now allow former customers to unlock their phones. This development comes as a settlement, not as a decision rendered by a judge or jury. According to spokespeople, Sprint wants “to avoid the uncertainties and expense of litigation.” While we don’t blame them, this decision should have little effect in the short-run. Yes, customers can have their CDMA phones unlocked when they leave Sprint, but they might find difficulty activating it with another network. As far as we know, Verizon won’t accept phones from other carriers, since they’re “not optimized to the Verizon network.”
October 26th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
We love catching little snippets like this from overseas. According to the Telegraph, British government officials worked in conjunction with mobile phone companies to keep roaming rates at an inflated rate. This is all according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, which contains minutes of meetings between the companies and officials.
October 23rd, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Verizon Wireless | No Comments
We spend a lot of time ripping on Verizon around these parts. And why not? They’re trying to stack the chips on their side, and we’re flailing aimlessly just to get one or two of them back for the consumer. No, they’re not Big Brother or anything radical like that. They’re just exploiting regulations created before the widespread use of cell phones. We’re just trying to keep the stories balanced. And so, courtesy of Ed Foster’s Gripe Line, we bring you some Verizon billing issues. Be wary of these if you plan to sign up for Verizon’s phone/Internet/cable FiOS plan. They plan to bundle that with wireless next year, so it becomes even more of an issue.
October 19th, 2007 | Canadian Wireless, Consumer Issues, iPhone | 8 Comments
Oh my, we’ve written our fair share about the iPhone. More than our share, even. That’s because it’s more than a phone. It’s a cultural phenomenon. And now that phenomenon is spreading overseas, with the iPhone becoming available in many European countries. Notably absent from that list (though clearly not European) is our neighbor to the north. No, Canada won’t be getting the iPhone any time soon, and no, this is not a vast conspiracy by Apple. It might be, though, the result of collusion between Bell and Rogers, Canada’s foremost telecommunications companies. How can two companies keep such a hyped device out of the country? Simple. By blocking the lifeline on which it feeds: the Internet.
October 18th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
We love reading articles like this one, not so much because we buy into every word the author writes, but because it makes us think. And really, that’s the entire point of writing and reading, isn’t it? We don’t expect you to buy 100 percent into everything we write here. That would be absurd. What we hope is that you read some of these blog entries and are inspired to think deeper about certain issues. Cell carriers will tell you one thing, and we’re just here to balance the story. Anyway, check out this more than astute analogy provided by Dana Blankenhorn of ZDNet:
October 18th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Last month we mentioned a consumer-friendly bill making its rounds in Congress. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller have been working hard to force wireless carriers to more fully disclose what’s on their customers’ bills. We truly appreciate this, as there are many unfair practices in the wireless industry. The insiders may argue that these practices foster competition, but there’s no proof of that. Plus, what are they going to say? “Yes, we’re being unfair. Let’s change these policies and lose money.” Of course they won’t. If they did that, they’d actually have to think of new ways to make money.
October 18th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Verizon Wireless | 1 Comment
We stumbled upon this story and couldn’t let it go to rest. It appears that Verizon actually deducts your plan minutes when it places sales calls to you. We’ll let that sink in for a minute, then repeat it. Okay. When Verizon calls you to sell you upgrades to your account, minutes are being deducted from your account. Excuse us? We know we seem appalled at many aspects of the cell industry, but come on. This is beyond absurd. We can understand being charged if you did something wrong to warrant the call, but this is a sales pitch…from the company providing your phone service!
October 17th, 2007 | AT&T, Consumer Issues | No Comments
This is the kind of story we love to lead with. AT&T has announced that they’ll follow Verizon’s lead in offering prorated early termination fees, rather than forcing customers to pay a flat rate if they wish to leave their agreement prematurely. This may seem like a small concession by the telecommunications giant, but it’s really the least they could do. Flat-rate ETFs are one of the most unfair practices of a contract, and to see it go prorated is a small victory in our minds.
October 16th, 2007 | Consumer Issues | No Comments
Regular readers of this blog will know that we feel strongly about a number of subjects related to mobile phones. Usually we’re busy decrying contracts and other prohibitive practices of carriers. There are times, though, when we just want to smack consumers upside the head. Like with the talking on a cell while driving issue. People have a hard enough time driving with both hands. When they’re only using one hand and are distracted by a conversation, well, things can get sticky. That’s why most states have adopted laws that ban using a handset while driving. Not Pennsylvania. Last week, though, reports of such a law caused sales of headsets to soar.
October 16th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Verizon Wireless | No Comments
Much hoopla has been made during the past five or so days regarding Verizon’s move to sell call data to third parties. Hey, they want to make a few bucks in advertising, and advertisers are frothing at the mouth for Verizon’s data. It will help them better target ads, which should lead to fewer dollars wasted and better conversion rates. However, this is coming at the cost of their customers’ privacies. What if we don’t want their stinkin’ advertisements?
October 15th, 2007 | Consumer Issues, Verizon Wireless | 1 Comment
Oh, Verizon. We were once fond of you because of your superior network coverage in our area. Now, though, we’ve grown beyond sour. Whether it’s their abhorrent contract, or them challenging the open-access provision in the 700 MHz spectrum auction, they’ve been really low lately. Now we’re hearing that they plan to sell customer call data to third parties unless their customers opt out. Yeah, subscribers can avoid this practice, but we wonder how readily accessible they’re making this opt-out policy.