media logos

Consumer Issues

Driving on phone more dangerous than talking to passengers

Do you talk on the phone while you drive? We’ve touched on this topic plenty of times on Prepaid Reviews, always coming down on the side of safety. Hey, I’m a former handset-to-the-ear-while-driving guy, and I only stopped after a near-accident. I got lucky. Many do not. Some have argued that it’s no different than talking to a passenger. A recent survey, though, claims that driving while on a phone is more dangerous than talking to a passenger.

Read the full article →

When cutting spending, most consumers don’t change cell habits

Prepaid and the economy. It’s a meme you’ll hear around these parts in the coming year for sure. Think about it. With rough economic times forecasted for our immediate future, why commit to a two-year cell phone contract, where you’ll likely pay for more than you use? With prepaid, you don’t commit and only pay for minutes you actually end up using. A recent survey, though, suggests that people aren’t that willing to change their spending habits when it comes to mobile phones. While 86 percent of respondents said they’d eat out less, just 32 percent said they’d spend less on mobile phone service. It seems like a missed opportunity.

Read the full article →

Prepay to grow faster than postpay in 2009?

Just this past Friday, we discussed how the best way to start saving on your cell phone bill is to go prepaid. This is something we’ve been talking about for a while, given the state of the economy. The prepaid movement seems to be coming around, with T-Mobile adding more prepaid than postpaid subscribers in the third quarter. Now we get word that Boost Mobile predicts that prepaid grow more than postpaid in 2009. Now wouldn’t that be something?

Read the full article →

TRAC outlines ways to save on your cell bill, starting with prepaid

The story dominating the Internet for the next year, at least, will be the state of the U.S. economy. Things look gloomy now, and people are looking for ways to save money. We’ve talked earlier this year about prepaid and the American economy, and I even wrote an article for Discuss Wireless on the issue. the Telecommunications Research & Action Center (TRAC) has issued a list of ways to cut on your phone bill. We’ll look at the five items. Unsurprisingly, it starts with prepaid.

Read the full article →

Consumers cutting back on cell phone use

With the economy in a state of uncertainty, many individuals and families are cutting back on costs. As we’ve talked about previously, one place where they can save monthly is on the cell phone bill. Of course, since cell phones have become ingrained in our daily lives, it’s tough to cut them out completely. Yes, this is to say that prepaid can be a solution. A recent survey shows that 76 percent of cell phone users are planning to immediately cut back. If you’re among them, you can find a deal from one of our featured pay as you go phone providers.

Read the full article →

Cox to launch wireless network in 2009

So we’re actually going to get some new competition as a result of the 700 MHz spectrum auction. Cox, a cable company with 6.2 million subscribers, will take its spectrum and build out a wireless network. They expect to be up and running in the second half of 2009, so about a year from now. Yet, that sounds a little fishy, doesn’t it? After all, doesn’t Cox need to go through the painstaking process of building out a network? Sure they do. But they have an interim plan.

Read the full article →

Public Interest Spectrum Trust protests Verizon Alltel merger

One of the major worries of the pending Verizon-Alltel merger is that it will further sap competition in the wireless space. This is understandable, considering you’re taking the nations’ No. 2 carrier and combining it with the No. 5 carrier to create the No. 1 carrier. After official approval, Verizon will have over 80 million subscribers, surpassing AT&T, the current national leader. The Public Interest Spectrum Trust wants the FCC to think long and hard before it gives wireless carriers even more power, says the Washington Post.

Read the full article →

U.K. government reportedly considering registration of prepaid cell phones

Over the summer, we learned that Massachusetts is considering a system whereby prepaid cell users would have to register their phones. The idea is to place the burden on the retail store to keep records, which has been the main objection to the proposed legislation. That, and the fact that not everyone has access to the required ID. In any case, it appears that the British government is working on a similar plan. Could this set a precedent that seeps into the U.S.?

Read the full article →

Consumers using blogs, reviews to determine cell phone purchases

Our intent with Prepaid Reviews is simple. We want to have as much information as possible, arranged in a meaningful way, which can help you make a decision about purchasing prepaid cell phones and services. According to a recent survey, published at Cellular News, it’s working. Over 60 percent of Americans who buy mobile phones use “online product reviews and user comments” to help determine their decision. About half of that number cited blogs as a strong influencer. This is not so much a praise of such sites, really, as it is a praise of consumers who make sure they have all the relevant information at hand before making a purchase. In theory, it leads to smarter buying decisions.

Read the full article →

Leap Wireless, MetroPCS enter roaming agreement

Hey, did you know that Metro PCS and Leap Wireless were tangled up in litigation? I’m not surprised, but I didn’t know. This morning, via MarketWatch, we get word that the cases have been settled. That’s not all, though. The companies have gone from fisticuffs to pals, as they entered into a national roaming agreement which will benefit subscribers of both carriers. As if that wasn’t enough, they also exchanged a bit of spectrum.

Read the full article →

Why prepaid minutes come with an expiration date

When you look through our prepaid cell phone reviews, you’ll notice a section titled “Earliest Minute Expiration.” Yes, when you buy prepaid minutes, they’re not yours forever. Some might be outraged at this, arguing that this is just another way the cell carriers squeeze every last penny out of you. However, like most prepaid consumer issues, the carriers have a perfectly good explanation. We turn to Christina Tynan-Wood of InfoWorld, who spoke to Virgin Mobile about the issue.

Read the full article →

The never-ending question: kids and cell phones

At no point in the foreseeable future do I see this question going away. When should a kid get a cell phone? Clearly, there’s not a single, concrete answer. It just pains me, you know, to see a 10-year-old with a cell phone in hand. I dunno, I guess it has to do with youthful innocence or something. Anyway, Terri Gruca of WCCO in Minnesota caught up with Tim Wolfe, a Verizon Wireless rep, to ask him about when kids should have cell phones.

Read the full article →

Spectrum Bridge sets up spectrum market

As you might know at this point, competition isn’t exactly open in the wireless communications industry. Spectrum is scarce; you can’t just go out and make a big investment in spectrum and build out a new network. There’s only so much available. The government auctioned off a good chunk of spectrum earlier this year, in what is expected by many to be the last such spectrum auction for some time. So how can a company acquire spectrum under these conditions? Via InformationWeek, we hear of a company called Spectrum Bridge. They’re a secondary market which sets up buyers and sellers of spectrum.

Read the full article →

Finding the best phone from each prepaid carrier

Can you get a quality, feature-rich phone on prepaid? How about for a good price? It used to be that you either had to settle for a five-year-old phone, a refurbished model, or pay out the wazoo for a prepaid cell phone. Last week, though, we saw a deal on AT&T Go Phone: the Sony Ericsson Z750 for $39.99. With a $25 airtime card included, the net cost to the consumer is $14.99. A quick glance at the features — music player, 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth — shows that this is a stupendous value for the dollar. Today, we’ll take a look at some of our pay as you go cell phone providers to see the best deals they offer on phones.

Read the full article →

Customer service wait times getting worse

Last week, J.D. Power and Associates released a semi-annual survey on the state of customer service in the wireless industry. While Verizon took home top honors, that’s not the main point of this. What caught my attention, and what surely was of note to those who leave comments on our reviews, is that wait time for customer service is up to 4.4 minutes on average. Yikes. That’s up 34 percent from last year, when the average was 3.3 minutes on hold. This cannot be good for the wireless industry’s spotty, to be kind, reputation regarding how they treat their customers.

Read the full article →

ID law for prepaid circulating in Massachusetts

It’s not like this is totally new, but there are some states looking to require ID for prepaid cellular purchases. The latest state, according to the Boston Globe, is Massachusetts. State Rep. John J. Binienda wants to impose this requirement in order to aid police investigations. He’s being met with resistance, though, and the bill could be delayed until next year.

Read the full article →

Texas state commission still looking to repeal 911 tax for prepaid

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.

Read the full article →

Prepaid rules across the Atlantic

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.

Read the full article →

Massachusetts House passes ID bill for prepaid

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.

Read the full article →

U.S. Cellular forced to be clear about “free”

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.

Read the full article →

Rural carriers petition against exclusive deals

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.

Read the full article →

SIMable makes unlocking simple

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.

Read the full article →

Prepaid and the American economy

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.

Read the full article →

When was the last time you threw away a phone?

Apparently, throwing away your cellphone isn’t just environmentally hazardous, it’s downright wasteful. ReCellular, an electronics stability firm, is working on a going green campaign (who isn’t nowadays?) in anticipation of Earth Day. They lead with a killer stat: We discard 40,000 cellphone a day, meaning 150 million per year. I was under the impression that as a whole, we’re not really dropping cellphones into landfills too often — that most people held onto their old phones as backups (I know I do).

Read the full article →

Find cell phone driving laws for every state

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.

Read the full article →

Virgin Mobile CEO talks subsidies

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.

Read the full article →

Kids not safe crossing street with phone

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.

Read the full article →

Talking while driving could lead to insurance hikes

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?

Read the full article →

Telecoms feeling effects of the economy?

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.

Read the full article →

Make sure you know your phone’s return policy

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.

Read the full article →

AT&T makes you pay to pay

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.

Read the full article →

Unlimited plans to bolster prepaid?

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.

Read the full article →

The roadblocks to mobile shopping

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.

Read the full article →

Another study links cell phones to cancer

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.

Read the full article →

Will Congress impose restrictions on prepaid cell phones?

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.

Read the full article →

T-Mobile loses appeal, cannot enforce arbitration clause

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.

Read the full article →

Mobile phone radiation causes sleep complications?

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.

Read the full article →

Poor service? Get out of your contract

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.

Read the full article →

Recycling your old cell phone

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.

Read the full article →

What are you looking for in voicemail?

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.

Read the full article →

Talking and driving adding to your commute?

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.

Read the full article →

Is AT&T GoPhone falsely advertising?

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:

Read the full article →

Less than two more months of analog service

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.

Read the full article →

Rebtel supports “short code” petition

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.

Read the full article →

Not paying for 911 from your prepaid? You might soon

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.

Read the full article →

Big carriers holding back on “short codes”

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.

Read the full article →

Jitterbug keeps the elderly connected…at a great cost

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.”

Read the full article →

A little twist in the Verizon/Vermont ordeal

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.

Read the full article →

Another reason to not sign a mobile phone contract

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.

Read the full article →

By golly, people expect more from prepaid

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.

Read the full article →