Telecommunications Consumer Education and Training Program
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Things to know when choosing a cell phone plan
There are a variety of options when it comes to choosing a cell phone plan and it often can be difficult to understand all the details. The following resources may be helpful for you when deciding to sign a cell phone contract.
The Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) has put together a Mobile Phone Plan Checker that guides the consumer through choosing a cell phone plan. It also provides information about how to file a complaint with your cell phone company. Please note the UCAN provides specific services to residents of California, so some of the contact information is not relevant to Washingtonians. Please see the section on this website about filing cell phone complaint in the state of Washington.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office provides a brochure on tips to know before you purchase wireless telephone service.
It is common for wireless phone service corporations to make promises they can’t live up to while talking to potential customers, and for wireless service to be less than was promised or expected. Often the customer feels like the misunderstanding is their fault when in fact the wireless company used misleading language or failed to disclose certain provisions of the wireless service agreement. Common issues include:
“Things to Know” complied from Citizens’ Utility Alliance.
Kiosks*, which may appear to be service providers, can charge even more. Kiosks are 3rd party providers, not cell phone carriers. Additional early termination penalties from kiosks can be as high as $400 PER PHONE LINE.
*Be VERY careful about buying cell phone service from a kiosk at a mall; they often add additional terms to the contract that make it even more expensive for you to get out of a contract (not including the sometimes contradictory return policies and trial periods.)
What if the service isn't as good as you expected- will they let you out?
Yes, for around $175 PER PHONE LINE. Cell phone companies do not guarantee quality of service. Some companies explicitly state in their Terms and Conditions, "Company does not guarantee availability of network."
How bad does the service have to be before they let you out?
In many ways, all that you are entitled to with a cell phone plan is a phone, working or not. Cell phone contracts may not be drafted to cheat you, but they ARE drafted to keep you! Cell phone companies spend upwards of $300 in marketing costs and subsidies to win each customer and they are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to switch to a competitor. Make use of your trial period to test your phone EVERYWHERE you are going to use it, because it is the only chance you will get. Do not expect the quality of service to improve. If you are told reception will get better once the new tower is put up, find a different provider.
Can a change in contract terms be used as grounds for cancellation?
Contracts vary, but most changes to your contract made by the company can provide grounds to get out. Almost any new fee or new charge is your opportunity to break the contract. Why? Because companies can't change any part of the contract without your permission. But they do it all of the time because they know that you DON'T know that you can use that change as a basis for canceling your contract.
Here are some recent examples:
“Ending a Cell Phone Contract” information complied from Utility Consumers’ Action Network.
Cell phones and 911
All charged cell phones (regardless of whether or not the owner currently pays for cell phone service) have the ability to dial 911 in an emergency. As long as the phone is on and has a charged battery, simply dial 911 and select the “send” button to be connect immediately with the emergency dispatcher for 911.
It’s not always easy for emergency response teams to locate calls from a cell phone. When you call from a landline, computer at the 911-dispatch office is able to access the address from which the landline is connected. Calls from a cell phone can be made from any location and the computer is not always able to locate the call quickly.
The Federal Communications Commission has developed tips for calling 911:
Resources for buying inexpensive emergency phones:
911 information complied from the Federal Communications Commission.
Steps for Filing a Cell Phone Complaint
Follow these steps if you’re having problems with your cell phone service:
1. Save all documentation. Hold on to all original documentation that may prove your case and only send photocopies. These documents may include contracts or agreements that you signed, sales receipts, shipping invoices, delivery acknowledgements, credit-card statements, print advertising, bills, or letters written by you, the cell phone company, the retailer and anyone else involved.
2. Document your phone calls. Keep a record of everything you do to resolve your cell phone complaint. It can show your diligence to resolve this matter.
To keep an accurate record, get the first and last name, title and phone number of everyone you talk to. Some companies may only use “Rep ID numbers.” Take note of these numbers. Also make notes of the date and time of each call and hold long you were kept on hold. Know who said what to you and keep all your records in a folder or on a notepad. You may also use your phone statements to supply additional evidence of your contact with the company.
3. Remain calm and professional. You can best support your case by remaining calm, even when the other person is rude or dismissive. Speak clearly and support your arguments with facts, not exaggerations.
4. Know your rights. Review the terms of the service agreement/contract and know what your legal rights are in this matter.
5. Talk to the right authorities. Identify who you are talking to and how much authority that person has. Try to concentrate only on those with the power to do what you want. There is no use in arguing with a customer-service representative who is incapable of providing the relief you seek. If you are getting nowhere with one person, move on to his or her supervisor and then upward if necessary.
Filing with the Federal Communications Commission
You may also notify the Federal Communications Commission if you do not receive a satisfactory resolution from your service provider. Use the Federal Communications Commission website or call 1-888-225-5322.
The FCC will forward electronic and mail complaints to the service provider and direct the company to respond to the consumer within 30 days. The FCC however does not handle contractual disputes or violations of state deceptive advertising laws.
To file a complaint with the FCC, you must submit your contact information, the names of all companies involved, the names of company representatives contacted and dates of correspondence with the company.
Filing with the Washington Attorney General Office
The Washington State Attorney General Consumer Protection office will receive complaints about fraud and contract disputes. Based on the consumer complaints, state attorney general offices have filed lawsuits against wireless companies, resulting in refunds to consumers and agreements by some companies to reform certain practices.
When filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office, you should explain in detail, with photocopied documentation, what the problem is and what you have done. You should identify the wireless service provider; the name of company representatives contacted and dates of correspondence with the company. You should also explain what you want the company to do such as, refund a certain amount of money, fix a product or perform a service. To file, use the Washington Attorney General Consumer Protection Division website, or call 1-800-551-4636.Complaint filing information complied from the Citizens’ Utility Alliance.