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Keep Your Cellphone When Switching Companies

April 6, 2004
Contact: Janee Briesemeister, (512) 477-4431, ext. 117
Chris Murray, (202) 462-6262

Consumers Union asks FCC to investigate, stop cell phone companies from ‘locking’ phones

(Washington, D.C.) – Consumers Union is asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate and take action to stop the practice by many cell phone companies of artificially “locking” wireless handsets, which prevents consumers from using their cell phones when they change cell phone companies.
“The only reason wireless companies install these locks is to try and hang onto their customers by effectively holding their phone hostage,” said Chris Murray, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “While the locks take different forms with different technologies, they all have the same effect – putting another roadblock to competition in the wireless market.”
Consumers Union’s campaign to improve cell phone service, EscapeCellHell.org, is providing a free e-mail form for consumers to ask the FCC to ensure companies don’t block compatible phones when customers change companies. The campaign follows the organization’s successful push last Fall for cell phone number portability, which required the wireless industry let customers keep their phone numbers when switching companies.
Janee Briesemeister, director of EscapeCellHell.org, said consumers have reaped the benefits of competition prompted by number portability. Allowing more consumers to reuse their wireless phones will mean more freedom of choice for consumers.
“Just like phone numbers, software locks are another way cell phone companies prevent customers from taking their business elsewhere,” Briesemeister said. “Forcing consumers to purchase a new phone when they switch companies is unfair, wasteful and bad for our environment.”
Eliminating the artificial locks also will have a positive impact on the environment, as Americans discard millions of useful phones each year, equaling 65,000 tons of trash that includes toxic materials such as arsenic, mercury and lead.
“If the commission works to eliminate handset locking, companies will have stronger incentives to bring innovative products to the market, and consumers will be the winners,” Murray said. “When locking is prohibited, we can expect to see phones that are compatible on all networks, which ultimately will lead to better coverage, better 911 service, more competition and less toxic pollution.”
To read Consumers Union letter to the FCC and to find more information about the handset portability campaign, click here.