Friday, December 21, 2007

Early Termination Fees of Wireless Phone Contracts

Service industries such as mobile phone phone service and subscription television commonly have termination fees or early termination fees (ETFs) as they are more commonly known. However, the imposition of these fees have been criticized by consumer interest groups. These fees prevent users from migrating to superior services so they are labeled as being anti-competitive.

The process usually works this way. A person purchases cellular phone service from a particular wireless carrier. He or she might be required to sign a two-year contract in order to avail of the service. Now that contract might stipulate a $200 fee in the event that the customer breaks the contract or wants to opt out of it.

The clamor and the disputes about the unfairness of early termination fees in wireless phone contracts have lead to positive changes. Verizon wireless was the first carrier to give in when it announced that it will prorate it's early termination fee. AT&T followed Verizon's lead and other carriers namely, T-Mobile and Sprint, have also decided that they would begin prorating their ETF in the first half of next year.

Now, what does a prorated early termination fee entail? The customer will still have a to pay a fee for ending the contract abruptly. However, the amount will decrease as the decision to end the contract early gets closer to the contract end date. This means that a customer will no longer be forced to pay the original fee if he decides to end the contract.

Here's a list of the current termination fee for each major wireless carrier:

Alltel: $200 per phone line

AT&T: Prorated

: $200 per phone line (to be prorated next year)

T-Mobile: $200 per phone line (to be prorated next year)

Verizon: Prorated

So far, Alltel has not made any announcements on making it's ETF prorated. However, it may lose customers if it remains as the only carrier to have a non prorated early termination fee next year. It would be logical to assume that the company will also follow the examples of other wireless networks to keep their consumers happy.

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