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Nearly 38% increase in 2004 wireless phone company complaints

Monday March 28, 2005

Nearly 38% increase in 2004 wireless phone company complaints
prove need for new consumer rights

Combined Cingular-AT&T data tops the list of complaints

(Washington, D.C.) – Cingular and AT&T Wireless, which merged late last year to form the nation’s largest cell phone company, have the worst combined complaint record for 2004, according to records obtained by Consumers Union from the Federal Communications Commission through the Freedom of Information Act. AT&T Wireless also had the worse complaint record for two years running, the data showed.
The total number of complaints filed about wireless phone service also increased nearly 38 percent from 2003 to 2004, according the FCC’s website. Complaints rose from 21,357 in 2003 to 29,478 in 2004.
“The staggering increase in complaints is further evidence that reform is needed in the wireless phone market so consumers can get a fair shake,” said Janee Briesemeister, senior policy advocate for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
“Since the cell phone industry brought out its ‘voluntary consumer code,’ consumer complaints have skyrocketed, which shoots down the claim that the marketplace is working and consumer rights’ laws aren’t needed. The numbers don’t lie – there continues to be a problem, and its getting worse, not better.”
Of the more than 29,000 complaints filed in 2004, Cingular-AT&T Wireless ranked first among the top eight carriers both on a total complaint basis (combining each company’s complaint record prior to and after the merger), and in complaints adjusted to account for differences in the number of subscribers. The combined complaints for Cingular-ATT came in at 289 per million customers. Of the national wireless companies, Verizon had the fewest complaints per million, at 76. Overall, regional carrier US Cellular has the lowest number of complaints per million subscribers, at 39.
For all of the major cell phone companies, consumers complained the most about billing problems. Complaints about transferring their phone numbers, service quality, contracts and marketing were close behind.
“Consumers want to know which companies are generating the most complaints about billing, service and coverage before they sign a long-term contract,” Briesemeister said. “Companies will have an incentive to improve if they know consumers can check out their service records.”
Even though the FCC – which currently is the only regulatory agency overseeing wireless service – fields consumer complaints, it does not disclose that information to help shoppers make informed decisions. Consumers Union is supporting legislation in several states, most notably California, that would give state regulators, not just the FCC, the ability to deal with customer complaints about the wireless industry.
To view the specific complaint data, go to http://www.hearusnow.org/wireless/1/.
Contact: Janee Briesemeister, (512) 477-4431 ext. 117