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Cell phone settlement positive but more consumer protections needed

Cell phone settlement encouraging for consumers
but more protections still needed

Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Contact: Janee Briesemeister
(512) 477-4431 ext. 117
(Washington, D.C.) – A 32-state settlement of a deceptive practices investigation against three major wireless companies – Cingular, Sprint and Verizon – is expected to benefit consumers frustrated with vague advertising claims and insufficient coverage maps, but consumer advocates say it illustrates the need for states to continue to push for regulations that protect cell phone customers from other abuses.
“This settlement will result in significant improvement for customers in states that have been stuck in a cell phone hell of misleading advertising and meaningless coverage maps,” said Janee Briesemeister, director of EscapeCellHell.org, a project of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
“The fact that it took a massive investigation by states’ attorneys to force these cell phone companies to do many of the things they promised they would do on their own shows the need for regulation,” Briesemeister added. “Maybe consumers can’t be heard on their cell phones, but their frustration with the market has come through loud and clear.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Cingular Wireless, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless must provide customers with coverage-area maps that are as accurate as current technology allows; give consumers at least two weeks to terminate service contracts without incurring penalties; and change the way they advertise and sell services and coverage.
The settlement also allows customers to cancel their contract within three days of activating service without paying an activation fee.
“While this is an important step forward in giving cell phone customers certain rights,” Briesemeister said, “we encourage states to approve consumer protections as the only real way to ensure against deceptive and harmful practices. The California Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights, for example, gives consumers a longer test drive period and addresses other problems relating to contracts and billing.”