Now, they are calling on the government to enact consumer protection regulations to oversee how the cell phone industry is run. Some consumers are filing their own lawsuits hoping to recover some of the money they've paid in fees and possibly force the cell phone industry to make its own changes.
Last month, Wisconsin Public Interest Group (WISPIRG) staff issued a press release calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact a cell phone user bill of rights that would protect consumers from an industry that has failed to properly regulate itself. According to the WISPIRG press release; "In survey after survey, consumers report frustration and dissatisfaction with their wireless carrier."
WISPIRG notes that in the past three years the FCC received over 75,000 complaints regarding cell phones. Among problems reported by cell phone users are double billing, unexplained fees, poor coverage, and hefty termination fees, sometimes as high as $240 per cell phone. Customers were also upset by practices that resulted in them unknowingly extending the length of their contracts when they make changes to their calling plans.
A study conducted in by J.D. Power and Associates found the length of time customers own their cell phones has gone up. Right now, customers keep their cell phones an average of 17.5 months whereas in November 2006 that time was 16.6 months. One possible reason for the increase is that customers are trying to avoid paying early termination fees by holding on to their phones longer.
Problems with cell phones and services are not new, nor are complaints about early termination fees. A press release issued by MASSPIRG in 2005 found that 35 percent of people surveyed noted that early termination fees stopped them from switching providers. The organization also called for bill of rights to protect cell phone users.
Some groups, including Consumers Union, are lobbying for "test drive" periods during which customers could tryout their phones through the first billing period to determine if the cell phone works in the locations they need it to. This would also allow consumers to ensure that their cell phone bill reflects the price they agreed to when they purchased the plan.
As reported by WSOC TV, the man received a bill for early termination fees and late fees of $175, claiming that when he changed his rate plan a year earlier he had automatically renewed his contract, even though he did not sign a new contract. Although he received a refund after a journalist contact Sprint, many people do not get their money back.
Lawsuits have been filed against cell phone companies alleging that early termination fees violate state laws. If you have been unreasonably charged an early termination fee, contact a lawyer to discuss your options.