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Cell-phone users need a Bill of Rights

Discussion in 'GENERAL Wireless Discussion' started by amphibian, Mar 3, 2003.

  1. amphibian

    amphibian Senior Member
    Senior Member

    Jan 28, 2002
    Likes Received:

    Posted on Mon, Mar. 03, 2003

    Cell-phone users need a Bill of Rights
    By Mike Langberg
    Mercury News

    Cell-phone users of the nation unite! You have nothing to lose but your lack of rights!

    Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., this week introduced legislation he grandly calls The Cell Phone Users Bill of Rights, and I find myself agreeing with just about every aspect of his proposal.

    I've been attempting for several years to offer advice on how to pick the best wireless phone carrier and the best service plan. In all that time, I've been frustrated at how difficult it is for consumers to make informed choices.

    Schumer seems to fully grasp the problem and is advocating common-sense solutions. Sadly, there's little chance his bill will become law -- at least not without major watering down, given the wireless industry's heavy spending on campaign contributions and lobbying.

    There are similar efforts under way in California, both at the Public Utilities Commission and in the state Legislature, with similarly dim prospects.

    In a speech Tuesday to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Schumer explained his bill's three key points:

    â?¢ Number portability. The wireless industry has stalled for seven years in the face of federal mandates that would allow customers to keep their phone numbers when they switch from one carrier to another. The technology to make this happen is already in place, but the companies are fighting on every front because they don't want to make it easier for subscribers to defect.

    ``Imagine if you were a small-business owner that had printed hundreds of business cards for employees, all containing cell-phone numbers, and your employees had in turn distributed these cards to potential customers,'' Schumer said.

    ``If you wanted to switch providers because a cheaper plan that fit your company's needs was available, you could not because of the serious risk that your customers would not be able to contact you -- not to mention the expense of re-printing new business cards. . . .

    ``The lack of portability also makes life difficult for the individual cell user, forcing them to contact all of their friends and family to give out their new number should they choose to switch providers.''

    Wireless carriers keep making vague promises that number portability is around the corner. It's time to put an end to the dithering with a federal law that sets an immediate and mandatory deadline.

    â?¢ Clear and consistent disclosure of contact terms. I've spent many unhappy hours poring through pages of fine print, trying to devise accurate comparisons between the rate plans of different companies. At least I get paid for doing this; consumers shouldn't have to suffer the sting of clauses hidden deep in subscriber agreements.

    ``By not clearly disclosing such information in an easily digestible manner, wireless providers effectively limit the basis on which competition can take place to one single factor: price,'' Schumer said.

    ``As a result, there is virtually no incentive to make the investments necessary to offer better service than the next guy.''

    â?¢ Public information on service quality. Here's a very dark secret: The cell-phone industry pays consultants to drive around major metropolitan areas and produce extremely detailed maps showing the location of dead spots and areas with weak signals. So, the carriers themselves know where the gaps are; they just don't want to share this vital information with customers.

    Schumer said his bill ``will specifically tap government authorities to monitor service quality industrywide. Data will be collected and made publicly available so consumers can compare signal strength among providers, look at dropped call counts per carrier and compare dead zones across carriers.''

    The wireless industry's trade group, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association in Washington, D.C., is already gearing up to block Schumer's bill.

    The CTIA released a statement this week accusing Schumer of ``poisoning the competitive wireless market with unnecessary government regulations.''

    I think the industry is dead wrong. Whatever the short-term costs of implementing Schumer's ideas, his bill could save the wireless industry from itself in the long run.

    Cell-phone users are growing increasingly unhappy with dropped calls, confusing contracts and the lack of number portability. Carriers, competing only on price, don't have the resources to fix many of these problems.

    Laws that compel all carriers to offer better customer service, even if there's a slight short-term increase in monthly rates, would help the industry overcome its poor reputation.

    Disclosing the location of dead spots could even help the industry by getting customers to pressure local government officials to approve reasonable requests for installing new cell towers.

    If you want to make a difference, tell your congressional representative or U.S. senators that Schumer's bill deserves their support -- even if it means losing access to the wireless industry's generous campaign checkbook.
  2. Zackomatic

    Zackomatic Junior Member
    Junior Member

    Oct 26, 2002
    Likes Received:

    All I can say is Damn Skippy!!!

    I have alway's liked Charlie Schumer. I mean "Bill of Rights" may be a little rhetorical, but how about "Not getting shafted". Everything in this article was correct, including unfortunately, the industry shills and paid lobbyists efforts to kill this bill in committee.

    Many of these items are already being done by the carriers, the information is used in a proprietary manner rather than to the edification of the consumer. I am all for a business making a profit, but at the same time, consumers have the right to protect themselves from avarice.

    What this all comes down to is this, give consumers factual information on which to determine which provider is going to give him the best signal quality in his area coupled with the ability to vote with his $ using number portability, and you got a prescription for REAL competition.

    This has the wireless industry in a tizzy. All that power channeled into the consumer? You mean I will be able to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges? You mean I don't have to rely on some 19 yr. old kid looking at a marketing brochure and telling me that there's great coverage in my area when there really isn't?

    Wireless carriers haven't seen churn until they see number portability. I like to think of it as a Wireless Industry Referendum. People will have the ability to move, keep a long held number, and get the kind of service they were seeking in the first place. I bet Crapular's churn will go over 10% maybe higher!

    Alas, all this enthusiasm may be for naught. Money that should be spent on network upgrades and tower siting, will instead be waved in front of influential congressman on the correct committee's. The industry will probably get another extension, and since many of the carriers are in the midst of moving technology, that will be the next excuse. Oh, we just can't impliment number portibility right now Mr. FCC, we are busy overlaying GSM on our system and we can't afford the time/expense on number portibility right now, check back in a few years.

    Hope I'm wrong, call your local congressman, email Charlie Schumer's office and lend some moral support if nothing else.
  3. Phony

    Phony Junior Member
    Junior Member

    Feb 12, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I remember reading a few articles regarding number portablility and they predict churn rates at well over 20%-50%. I'm sure carriers will do everything they can to stall number portability.
  4. ronin

    ronin Junior Member
    Junior Member

    Jul 24, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Number portability will be great, but thing that makes me the most upset at present is the 911 locator issue. I found out recently that I live in a state that has been raiding the coffer of the tax paid by wireless users to put the 911 locator equipment in place. Apparently, they have been using the money for anything and everything but the deployment of the 911 locator equipment/technology.

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