Bill Would Give Wireless Subscribers More Rights

Freshman Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and veteran lawmaker Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., long an advocate for government oversight in telecom, have unveiled a bill to give cellular users access to more information about the services they buy.

CTIA The Wireless Association immediately decried the proposal while a group that represents state utilities praised it.

Klobuchar and Rockefeller plan to introduce The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007 in the Senate on Friday and have asked Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee for a hearing on the bill.

The act comes as carriers specifically Sprint Nextel jettison subscribers who call customer service too often, and as the FCC continues deregulating phone service, a trend consumer advocates fear will lead to higher prices and fewer choices.

Among the bills provisions is a 30-day window in which customers can get out of a contract without incurring early termination fees. Those fees generally hover around $175 per mobile device. Klobuchar and Rockefeller also want the FCC to pro-rate those fees. Under the bill, termination fees for a two-year contract would be reduced by half after a year.

Another requirement would make wireless providers share detailed maps with consumers. That would let a user determine whether he or she can get wireless service at home.

Carriers also would have to publish, in detail, all contract terms, charges, minutes, taxes and surcharges and wireless E911 service. Roaming charges would be itemized separately and providers wouldnt be allowed to extend subscribers contracts without written notice. Carriers further would have to provide written notice of rate and term changes at least 30 days before the changes take effect. Theres also a provision for military personnel deployed outside of the United States.

Its a simple matter of fairness, Klobuchar said.

But CTIA said theres no reason for the action called for by Klobuchar and Rockefeller. The association maintained the senators used incomplete and misleading data in crafting the bill.

“The most recently published FCC data, which was absent from the senators’ announcement, clearly shows that contract-related complaints, as well as overall wireless complaints, are falling, said Steve Largent, CTIAs president and CEO.

However, that doesnt negate the fact that termination fees remain high and that carriers can extend contracts just by getting verbal approval from a customer.

For its part, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) said it was pleased with the bill for keeping states rights intact and for looking out for consumers.

Leveraging state and federal enforcement efforts can only expedite resolution of constituent complaints and enhance industry compliance with any federal standards, said Tony Clark, NARUCs telecom committee chairman. 

U.S. Senate

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