TUESDAY, JAN. 6, 2003
Janee Briesemeister, (512) 477-4431, ext. 117
Chris Murray, (202) 462-6262
(Washington, DC) – Responding to consumers’ demands for improved cell phone service now that number portability is reality, Consumers Union today launched the next phase of its EscapeCellHell.org campaign to increase consumers’ power to demand better quality and more competitive choices in the wireless phone market.
Starting today, consumers can access the campaign Web site, www.EscapeCellHell.org, and write to their wireless carrier and federal regulators to demand better cell phone service. The primary improvements being sought are:
–Better information about where their cell phones will work before buying a plan.
–Pro-rated early contract termination charges – consumers shouldn’t have to pay the full fee near the end of a contract, which often can range from $175 to $200.
–The right for consumers to use their existing cell phone when they switch to carriers with compatible technology – some companies currently place artificial “locks” in the phones to force consumers to buy a new phone when switching.
–The right to know the number and types of customer complaints filed against cell phone companies with the Federal Communications Commission.
“Giving consumers the right to keep their cell phone numbers when they changed companies broke down a giant barrier to greater competition and better service,” said Janee Briesemeister, campaign director of EscapeCellHell.org. “But cell phone companies still have plenty of tactics to keep dissatisfied consumers locked into bad cellular service, such as hefty termination fees and the inability to keep your cell phone if you switch companies.”
Despite new gadget-laden phones and new calling plans, consumers are still frustrated that carriers fall down on the basics. For example, a September 2003 survey of ConsumerReports.org subscribers in 12 major markets found that of those who changed their cell phone company in the past three years, 47 percent cited poor service as a reason. The survey also found that in the week prior to the survey, 48 percent of respondents said they experienced no service, and 61 percent had at least one dropped call.
A second survey of the online subscribers in December 2003 found that 64 percent were concerned with the lack of good information, or maps, on coverage areas; 61 percent objected to early termination fees; and 54 percent wanted to use their existing cell phone with any carrier.
“It’s clear from customers’ responses that cell phone companies still have a long way to go in providing the kind of service consumers want and expect,” Briesemeister said. “Why shouldn’t consumers be made aware of the areas where their phones won’t work before they buy a calling plan? Why shouldn’t they be able to use the phone they paid for when they switch companies?”
Created in September 2003, the EscapeCellHell.org campaign’s initial goal was to ensure consumers could take their cell phone numbers with them when switching carriers by the Nov. 24 deadline. Now, the campaign will shift its focus to achieving better cell phone service for the 150 million cell phone users in the United States.
“By demanding accountability from their carriers — and asking policymakers to ensure that no artificial barriers exist that stop markets from working efficiently — consumers should be able to keep cell phone companies’ feet to the fire to improve service or risk losing customers,” said Chris Murray, legal counsel for Consumers Union.
As part of the EscapeCellHell.org campaign, Consumers Union will call on the FCC to prohibit carriers from imposing artificial barriers to consumers using cell phone handsets on competing networks. In addition, the organization will ask the FCC to report data on wireless service complaints by company, rather than in the aggregate, so customers will have good information when it comes time to picking a carrier.
Consumers Union also will seek full implementation of enhanced E-911 services, so that operators can precisely locate cell phone callers in an emergency situation. Most of the nation’s 6,000 emergency call centers still aren’t equipped with the latest wireless E-911 systems so they can pinpoint the location of a caller. CU also will push states to adopt wireless “Consumer Bills of Rights” that include reforms of billing and contract practices.
“We’re urging consumers to speak out on their own or via our Web site,” added Briesemeister. “Our campaign on wireless number portability was such a success because it gave voice to tens of thousands of consumers frustrated with poor cell phone service quality, who forced the carriers to listen. Our mission is to continue providing that very powerful voice.”
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.
Check out some more information on cell phones:
Cell Phones: New Rules New Choices
Best Carriers: Should You Switch?
Best Calling Plans: Small Fees Add Up
Best Phones: Basic Features Matter Most
911 Calls: More Trouble Ahead