Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two Carriers Defy Class-Action Suit over Credit Privacy

I've blogged about disputes and conflicts between customers and Mobile Phone carriers in this wireless contract info blog. Most of these disputes originate from problems over wireless contract polices.

Now it seems that plaintiffs’ lawyers have found a new weapon to pursue class-action consumer litigation against the mobile-phone industry. It's known as the "Fair Credit Reporting Act". After doing a bit of research I found out that the Fair Credit Reporting Act is an American federal law that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer credit information.

Amendments made to the FCRA about five years ago, orders that account information on printed receipts given to customers should be significantly limited by businesses that accept credit cards or debit cards for payment. This new guidelines have been imposed by early December 2006.

Recently, class-action lawsuits have been filed against Verizon Wireless and Alltel Corp. because of alleged noncompliance with the law. The financial implications of the class-action suits are potentially massive because both companies have millions of subscribers.

If a court finds willful noncompliance with the law, then the consumer is entitled to a maximum of $1,000 in statutory damages, plus actual damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

The lawsuit against Alltel states that:
“Although defendants had up to three years to comply, defendants have willfully violated this law and failed to protect plaintiff and others similarly situated against identity theft and credit card and debit card fraud by continuing to print more than the last five digits of the card number and/or the expiration date on receipts provided to debit card and credit card cardholders transacting business with defendants,

In court filings, Alltel and Verizon Wireless have denied allegations in the lawsuits. Let's see the wireless contract policies of both carriers when it comes to credit information. I have posted on this topic before but this should refresh you minds.

Here is Verizon Wireless contract policy on customer credit information.
Further, you’ve authorized us to investigate your credit history at any time and to share credit information about you with credit reporting agencies and our affiliates. If you ask, we’ll tell you the name and address of any credit agency that gives us a credit report about you.
This is a very interesting piece of news because of its possible impact. Verizon has a lot of customers so this may be a big blow for them. The same goes for Alltel. It's a smaller company so it would be interesting to see how they handle themselves if the court rules for the plaintiffs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wireless Contracts and the CTIA Mobile Phone Tax Petition

I stumbled upon some interesting mobile phone news today. I found out the CTIA is petitioning for a five-year hiatus on new discriminatory state and local wireless taxes. A new bill was also drafted to put this petition into action.

I was intrigued by these scoop because wireless taxes are part of the wireless contracts offered by mobile phone carriers. But before we look at the wireless contract policies that deal with these taxes, let us first go over the details of the petition.

CTIA issued the petition for a five-year ban on any taxes on mobile phone bills because these taxes may slow the growth of the wireless phone industry. The Association based the petition on studies indicating state and local wireless taxation receive nearly fifteen percent of each mobile phone bill. The researches also show that the taxation rate on wireless bill grew four times than that of other goods and services in the last four years.

In support of the CTIA petition to impose a five-year freeze on new discriminatory state and local wireless taxes, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) introduced a bill.
The bill that was introduced to the House of Representatives is called the "Cell Tax Fairness Act".

About a year ago, presidential candidate John Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) sponsored a similar legislation. The bill they authored would mandate a three-year moratorium on new discriminatory wireless taxes by states. There are also some bills that may have an impact on the wireless industry such as the The Wireless Consumer Protection Bill and the The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007.

CTIA President, Steve Largent made this statement to explain the petition:

“Keeping wireless taxes at a fair and reasonable level is critical to growing the economy and making the workforce more productive, efficient and informed. We should do everything in our power to remove the roadblocks -- such as excessive, discriminatory wireless taxes -- that stand in the way of progress.”

Now let us see a few wireless contract policies that deal with government and state taxes. Here is the policy from Sprint. This statement indicate that Sprint is required to collect taxes that may change without any notice. You have to provide a genuine certificate if you want to be exempted from any taxes.
You agree to pay all federal, state and local taxes, fees and other assessments that we're required by law to collect and remit to the government on the Services we provide to you. These charges may change from time to time without advance notice. If you're claiming any tax exemption, you must provide us with a valid exemption certificate. Tax exemptions generally won't be applied retroactively.
Here is Verizon's version.This policy is similar to Sprint's policy. A certificate is required for exemption claims and notices may not be issued.
You agree to pay all taxes, fees and surcharges set by the government. We may not always give advance notice of changes to these items. If you’re tax–exempt you must give us your exemption certificates and pay for any filings we make.

Well, I hope that CTIA's petition and the Cell Tax Fairness Act will be approved. I'm sure that all wireless consumers can appreciate a ban on wireless taxes. The wireless contract policies show that subscribers are required to pay them so we can all benefit from the petition and the bill.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Break Free from Expensive Wireless Contract Fees

There is no doubt that people spend a lot of money on mobile phone expenses. They spend a significant amount of money on minutes, mobile phones, plans and fees. No one can also deny that this is a business so carriers are also trying to make a profit through the services they provide to customers.

Many experts have observed that making a phone call has become less expensive. A great example of this trend is the unlimited calling plans that have been launched by wireless carriers. For a hundred bucks a month, a subscriber can make unlimited phone calls!

The trend of less expensive calls also indicate that carriers to market data plans. After all, this the the age of the Internet so it's only logical that data plans would become a good source of income for carriers.

Carriers have also turned to text messaging as a goos source of income. Many text messaging providers have installed a series of increase on text messaging rates in the past few months. Text messaging rates in some wireless plans recently increased from 15 cents to 20 cents.

These changes prompted many consumers to explore the option of canceling their wireless contract without paying any termination fee. Many wireless contracts have a clause that allows the subscriber the option of opting out of a contract if a change in fees have a material effect on your service.

However, caution must be applied with using this option. A consumer should examine the policies of a wireless contract before informing the carrier of this decision. Keep in mind that an early termination fee is charged to customers who choose to switch to a different cell phone carrier before the contract expires. Due to consumer complaints, cell phone providers like AT&T have decided to decrease this penalty as the consumer moves closer the end of his or her contract.

To avoid paying for fees attached to carrier switching, some consumers use third party carriers. These sites usually work by matching prospective buyers with cell phone owners with prospective buyers. The site would require a small fee to allow a consumer to post wireless contract terms. The site will then facilitate the transfer opf contracts between a buyer and an owner.

Consumers who want to settle disputes with their carriers may find success by negotiating near end of their wireless contracts. Carriers may give in to your demands if you express that you are thinking about transferring to another carrier if some fees are not reduced or waived. The stiff competition in the mobile phone industry may work in your favor.

Consumers should also exercise caution when they decided to add a new service or make changes to their wireless plans. Carriers may automatically renew your wireless contract if you make changes to your plan or activate new services. Many wireless contract disputes have originated from contracts being renewd without the knowledge of the consumers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Changes in the Wireless Contract Policies of AT&T

Many mobile phone service providers announced that they will pro rate the early termination fees they charge to customers who want to cancel their wireless contracts. It seems that they are starting to make good on those promises this year. AT&T recently announced that their subscribers will benefit from greater flexibility provided by the company's new approach to early termination fees.

Existing and new AT&T subscribers will not be charged with a flat early termination fee for canceling a service agreement, as long as they signed a one or two year wireless contract beginning on May 25, 2008. They will be charged with a rate that will decrease by "$5 during each month, every month, for the term of the contract."

However, the customers who have signed wireless contracts with AT&T before May 25 will still be charged with a single, flat ETF of $175. Well, I guess these customers will have to finish their contract. These pro rate policy is certainly more customer friendly then the flat rate ETF charged for terminating a wireless contract.

Customers who want no part of any wireless contracts also have new options. If you do not want to tangle with ETF's or other contract policies then you may:

- Choose to briung a compatible GSM device and purchase a SIM (subscriber identity module). You may then slip it into the back of the phone, and select a month-to-month service plan.

- Purchase a handset at full price and choose to go on a month-to-month service plan.

- Sign up for the GoPhone prepaid wireless plans offered by AT&T

The company also announced a few more customer friendly policies. For instance, AT&T now offers a 30-day return policy. This is a no-questions-asked grace period for service and equipment for customers who are unsatisfied with the equipment or service they have purchased.

AT&T Customers will also benefit from street-level coverage maps. They can use this online interactive mapping tool to view AT&T wireless coverage down to a neighborhood street level. This tool can even estimate the likelihood of coverage inside a building or a vehicle and outdoors to help subscribers.

These are just some of the customer friendly policies that have been launched by AT&T. I'm sure that others will follow. I have witnessed a lot of wireless contract complaints so I hope these changes will appease dissatisfied customers. These changes points towards a positive future for relations between wireless carriers and customers. I expect the other carriers to offer similar policies to make their own subscribers happy.