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CR survey: Cell service resists improvement

December 3, 2007

Cell Service Is Among the Lower Rated Services; Five Ways to Cut Cell Bills

YONKERS, NY — Cell-phone service seems to stubbornly resist improvement according to Consumer Reports Annual Survey of Cell-Phone Service published in the January 2008 issue of Consumer Reports. The survey found that fewer than half of respondents were completely or very satisfied, making cell service among the lower-rated services that Consumer Reports rates, as it has been for the past six years. The survey, conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center, included more than 47,000 readers in 20 major metropolitan areas across the country.
Mandatory contract extensions and high cost of service were the top two complaints of survey respondents. More than 60 percent of respondents who made changes to their service plan in the past year said they were required to extend their contract as part of the deal. But Consumer Reports says that number might understate the problem because some carriers haven’t always been up front with customers about such extensions, according to allegations in recent legal filings.
Consumer Reports survey results also show bright spots. Verizon and Alltel scored better than other providers in this year’s survey, as they have in the past. And T-Mobile matched satisfaction rates for Verizon in almost all the cities that Consumer Reports surveyed. And CR notes that T-Mobile plans generally offer more for the money than those of Verizon or Alltel.
Consumer Reports also notes that cell carriers are getting more consumer-friendly. Last fall, all of the rated service providers pledged to join Verizon and prorate their hefty $150 to $200 earlytermination fees. Holdouts also said they would join Alltel and T-Mobile and end their heavy-handed practice of mandatory contract extensions when consumers make changes to their service plan.
Five Ways to Cut Cell Bills
As consumers look for ways to cut down on the high costs of cell service, Consumer Reports offers these five tips:
1. Look into special-caller deals. Verizon Wireless and AT&T don’t charge for calls to other customers using the same service. Alltel’s My Circle plans provide free calling to any 10 designated wireless or landline numbers with any carrier; T-Mobile’s myFaves plans do the same, for five numbers.
2. Avoid overage charges. Consumers who plan on being on the cell more than usual can temporarily increase the monthly minute allotment to avoid overage charges as high as 45 cents per minute. Consumers should also check bills to ensure they are not running significantly under or over the plan’s minutes.
3. Control your child’s phone use. If runaway costs for a child’s cell phone are a problem, consider AT&T’s Smart Limits for Wireless service. It’s a $5-a-month option that allows consumers to control, via the Web, the numbers a child can call, text, or instant message, and the timing and duration of that activity.
4. Shop around for the extras. Comparing carriers or plans only by voice minutes can be an expensive mistake for consumers who will also be heavily using the phone’s other capabilities. Text messaging, now used by more than half of the respondents in Consumer Reports Annual Survey of Cell-Phone Service, can cost as much as 15 cents
per message a la carte, more for multimedia attachments such as photos. By comparison, one can pay as little as a penny per message in a monthly bundle. Rates vary similarly for a data plan for Web access.
5. Consider a pre-paid phone. Paying for calls by the minute may save money, especially for consumers who don’t usually come close to using up the time allotted by the fewest minutes plans, typically 300 minutes a month. And no contract is required.
The January 2008 issue of Consumer Reports also includes Ratings of 60 standard and smart phones; and Bluetooth headsets. Portions of the report are available for free online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
Lauren Hackett (914) 378-2561
or Melissa Valentino (914) 378-2432
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JANUARY 2008© Consumers Union 2007. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.