Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wireless Contract Update: Sprint to Prorate Early Termination Fee

Here's some great news for all Sprint subscribers. According to an AP article, Sprint is planning to follow other mobile phone carrier's with pro-rated Early Termination Feesor ETF's.

Now ETF's are probably the most controversial aspect of mobile phone contracts because they prevent customers from moving to another carrier before their existing contracts expired. In the past, national and regional US carriers used to charge a flat rate of around $150 to customers who want to get out of a contract before it expired.

Carriers impose this wireless contract policy to recover the cost of subsidized cell phones and to reduce the expense spent on signing up new customers. Of course, subscribers and consumers are no fans of ETF's because it restricts their freedom to move to other carriers and the fee is quite expensive for those who have multiple handsets or phone lines.

Fortunately, many of these carriers have decided to prorate the Early Termination Fees that bind their customers to their existing wireless contracts. And Sprint seems to be on the verge of deciding to prorate its Early Termination Fee. But what is a prorated ETF anyway?

A contract with a prorated ETF will charge a reduced reduce the fee based on each month a subscriber stays with the plan. This means that a subscriber who has stayed with a contract for 14 months will pay less than a customer who wants to opt out of a contract after three months. The less number of months remaining in a contract, the lower the Early Termination Fee.

Sprint's plans to reduce their ETF charges was revealed by CEO Dan Hesse during an an interview. Hesse indicated that the wireless carrier will be able to implement a prorated early termination fee system as early as December.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse explained that a new billing software should first be put in place before the prorated early termination fee system can operate. Customers will be able to benefit from Once is has the new software in place, it will deduct a small amount of money from the $200 ETF for each month that a subscriber stays with the plan.

I thin that this is a great update. One that many Sprint subscribers have been hoping for and they won't have to wait long. Sprint has been facing a lot of disputes and lawsuits based on ETF and perhaps this decision will provide a solution. Tune in to this blog for more information on wireless contract policies.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

US Carriers Respond to Rising Text Messaging Rates Concerns

Here's an update to the concerns over the rising rates of Text Massaging that are being charged by Wireless carriers.

A few weeks ago, I made a post about Sen. Herb Kohl, chair of the antitrust subcommittee sending a letter to the four major U.S. wireless network providers. The letter conveyed the senator's and consumer's concerns about the doubling of the rates for sending text messages even though the cost involved with sending them remained constant. The letter was sent ot the offices of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

Now, these carriers have expressed their response to Sen. Kohl's letter on the doubling of the rates for sending text messages. According to an RCRWireless article, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have denied that anything illegal was involved in the doubling of the rates for sending text messages.

According to the carriers, they have offered competitive bulk texting plans that have actually made the costs of sending text messages more affordable for mobile phone to consumers. They also would like to express that thay have suffered an increase in antitrust class-action lawsuits due to the congressional questions about the rising text messaging charges.

T-Mobile's representative defended his company by declaring that charges for text messages charged by the carrier has even dropped by half. He also expressed that the concerns over the rising cost of text messaging are exaggerated and untrue. Sprint and AT&T have also released public responses to Sen. Kohl's letter. Interestingly, Verizon Wireless requested that its response remain confidential.

The wireless carriers want to make an effective response to the inquiry because a number of class-action lawsuits have been filed against them citing Sen. Kohl's letter as the foundation for the complaints. They want to clear up this problem as soon as possible since text messaging is a major part of their revenues.

Well, I expected the major US carriers to respond effectively to this inquiry. Text messaging has steadily grown in popularityover the years so they have to take it seriously. Of course, the antitrust class-action lawsuits that have been filed against them also needs to be taken seriously. Tune in to this blog for more updates on this wireless contract issue and other related news.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Roaming in Rural Areas may be Enforced by Legislation

Here's an interesting update for mobile phone users residing in rural areas. A US Representative has introduced legislation that aims to require telecom recipients of rural universal-service funds to provide automatic roaming to wireless service carriers. But before we discuss this bill let us us first discuss mobile phone roaming.

Now I have discussed roaming in my previous blog posts but it wouldn't hurt to give another little introduction to this wireless contract term. Roaming as used in wireless telecommunications refers to the extending of connectivity service in a location that is different from the home location where the service was registered.

Roaming is significant because it allows users to communicate beyond their wireless networks. It is an important service to those who live in rural areas are because the reach of wireless networks is usually limited. Roaming is also significant to customers because it's an important part of their monthly mobile phone service bills. If you "roam" a lot when you use your mobile phone, then you might be looking at a huge bill. Now let's proceed to the legislation that might force roaming in rural areas.

The bill is officially named the Universal Roaming Act of 2008 and was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman of California. This legislation aims to attach the automatic roaming obligation to any affiliate of a telecom carrier that receives high-cost USF subsidies. Some experts feel that this bill will affect the current debates on on roaming rights by some auction winners that cannot yet access their spectrum. However, the current economic crisis will keep congress busy so further action on the bill is expected to be done next year.

This legislation has been met with some opposition from large carriers because they feel that they not be forced to provide access to licensees that own spectrum but have yet to established networks. If they provide roaming access to these licenses, then a delay in build out of wireless systems is a good possibility.

However, the Universal Roaming Act of 2008 also have its share of supporters. The Rural Cellular Association feels that the legislation introduced by Waxman is far-reaching and beneficial to smaller wireless carriers. The Rural Cellular Association would also want to abolish the cap on USF subsidies given to wireless carriers desiring to build systems in rural areas.

Well, I guess we have to wait until the economic crisis has subsided to gauge whether this bill will pass. This legislation has significant impacts on the current roaming scene so it will be interesting to see further action on it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Courts Hand Different Rulings on Carriers Billing Litigation

Here's an update to the complaints that have been filed against a few mobile phone carriers. According to a article, various federal courts made different decisions on the billing litigation against Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility. The article also indicated that the number of antitrust class-action texting lawsuits filed against major US carriers have increased steadily. All of these factors indicate that the mobile phone industry will continue to face challenges from frustrated customers and plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Let's look at the various federal courts decisions on the billing litigation. Verizon Wireless scored well when a U.S. District judge ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts New Jersey law. This means that Verizon's motion on the enforceable arbitration clause was granted. However, the story doesn't end there.

Verizon Wireless did not scroe well with other courts including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. These courts ruled in favor of consumers by deciding that class-action complaints cannot be necessarily foreclosed by individual arbitration clauses.

AT&T also faced some rough waters in the decisions made on the litigations and suits that they are facing. For instance, a federal court in San Diego did not rule in favor of the top US mobile phone carrier. The case filed against AT&T and other carriers including T-Mobile for charging customers for unauthorized mobile content on their monthly bills was not dismissed. The judge in charge of this case has temporarily ordered that AT&T cannot settle the class action case in Georgia.

However, AT&T Mobility has not yet raised the flag of surrender even though, the judge ruled in favor of the consumers. The company is currently reviewing and considering their next course of action.

Well, it seems that the battle is till raging. Class action suits are still being filed against carriers despite the waivers on the wireless contracts they require from their customers. We just have to wait and see who gains the upper hand on this one. Weill it be the consumers or will the carriers win at the end of the day. Tune in to this blog to find out.