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[P]
Shouldn't cell phone contracts be binding to both parties?

By jtown@punk.net in Op-Ed
Mon May 20, 2002 at 12:45:02 AM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)
/etc

When you got your last cell phone, you probably agreed to keep that account active for a year. Maybe even two. And you probably thought that the services provided by the company would stay the same for the full length of the contract. Guess again.

If you read the fine print, you'll notice that nearly every cellular provider has built the perfect escape hatch into their contracts. Basically, they give themselves the right to change any aspect of the service at any time. They generally give you 30 days to object and cancel the contract without penalty but what good is that? Are they also going to reimburse you for the cost of your fancy phone accessories? Are they going to contact everyone in your life to give them your new number. Not a chance.


Even worse, they don't need to get your approval to make the change or even verify that you're aware that a change has been made. Their 30 day notice gets tucked into your snail-mail bill. I, for one, don't pay my bill that way. Heck, I paid for a phone with wireless web access so I use it. My account balance and payment options are just a few buttons away. I check the balance and authorize payment. No check, no envelope, no stamp, no nothin'. Just electrical impulses. I've only found out about Nextel's changes by reading rants on the internet. It's been brought to my attention that Nextel sent out a postcard for their last change. I found it in the trash. Looked like an advertisement to me until I started reading it. (On the postcard, they didn't bother to mention that customers can close their accounts without penalty if they don't accept the changes.)

In the last few months, Nextel has made two very significant changes to their service. First they moved the beginning of evening/off-peak hours from 8pm to 9pm. This pretty much makes evening minutes worthless. What's the point of having unlimited evening/weekend minutes if I can only make calls for an hour a night during the week? I don't know about y'all but I don't make many calls after 10pm. More recently, they've changed the way they count air time. They used to round up to the next second. Now they are going to round up to the next minute. That's a very important distinction to people who make a lot of calls. 300 calls at an average of 2.5 minutes = 750 minutes the old way and 900 minutes the new way. Cha-Ching! First they take away an hour then they revise the way they calculate airtime just in case anyone slipped past without getting gouged.

These changes were made across the board for the most part. Even people who are only days into their one or two year contracts suddenly have to decide if they can live with the new rules. What if you just bought a $200 phone, a couple of extra batteries, the car charger, a carrying case, data cable, etc.? You're screwed. Signing up with Nextel could make for the most expensive month of phone service you've ever seen unless you "voluntarily" accept the new contract.

There are a couple of calling plans that are still billed by the second and business contracts are generally exempt from such changes but individual consumers are getting shafted. It's almost as if Nextel is trying to drive away the individuals who use their service.

How long will it be before Nextel decides that my "roaming home area" service should be altered? Right now, wherever I happen to be becomes my home area and local calls are local calls. If I go visit the family in Oregon, I can use my phone to make all the local calls I want. If I go back east, same thing. Go to Los Angeles, same thing. Wherever I am, that's my home area. This fits my calling patterns perfectly.

When I signed up with Nextel, I looked at all of their unique services and billing methods and decided that I was willing to pay the higher base price because the service seemed to warrant it. If I were to compare Nextel to other cellular providers today, I'd be hard pressed to see much difference. About the only thing they have left is that "radio" feature. I never used it. Don't have a need for it and it never figured into my decision to go with Nextel. Nextel no longer has better evening hours and now they bill airtime the same as any other carrier. What's left to justify their high price? Not much.

The changes seem to be having an effect. I've received numerous "bonus offers" from Nextel which have all turned out to have the same fine print. Taking them up on any of those offers would have required accepting another year long contract. Nextel must be pretty desperate to get me to commit to another year. I've received email offers, snail-mail, and even got a telemarketer (on the cell phone, no less). I'm sure every snail-mail bill also has these things tucked in there. I fail to see any advantage to a contract. It obviously doesn't lock Nextel into any kind of service agreement. They can still change whatever they want whenever they want while I get nothing but a discount at the Nextel store or a free month of service.


BTW, between the time I started typing this (Thursday) and today (Sunday), I received another "special offer" from Nextel. It went straight to voicemail. By that, I mean nobody ever really called. If they had, there would have been an entry in my Recent Calls log if they didn't have callerID blocked and "missed call" message on the display whether callerID was blocked or not. I just happened to notice that the voicemail icon was on the display with the standard "keypad lock" text in its normal place. Think about that. They don't have to bother paying a phone farm to call people. Just record a single message and squirt it into every box in the system. It was bad enough when I got junk text-messages for a few days (not from Nextel). Now I'm getting junk voicemail. I wonder if that was a test for future revenue streams. I can see it now. In the not-to-distant future, Nextel customers will probably have to wade thru as many junk voicemails as junk emails.

Watch for a change in the contract that says you're obligated to receive messages from "Nextel partners" via text message and/or voicemail. Or maybe they'll use DirectConnect. During your next meeting, how would you like your phone to pipe up with, "Hey, sexy. I've been waiting for you to call. I'm dripping wet and waiting for you at 1-555-WET-LICK. Call now. Only $2.99 per minute. Discreet billing."

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Display: Sort:
Shouldn't cell phone contracts be binding to both parties? | 132 comments (119 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Voicestream (2.75 / 4) (#1)
by theboz on Sun May 19, 2002 at 04:28:16 PM EST

Voicestream seems to be ok. Their customer support sometimes sucks, like all businesses, but I haven't had a full interruption of service before (voicemail didn't work for a weekend once when I travelled out of town.)

Stuff.

Get a pre-paid account... (3.75 / 4) (#8)
by StephenThompson on Sun May 19, 2002 at 04:59:32 PM EST

You can avoid all this contract nonsense by using a pre-paid phone. That is, you buy a phone-card that you use to pay for phone service, instead of monthly billing.
For people who don't use up their minute allowances, or just have irregular phone usage (10 hours one month, 1 minute the next), pre-paid can be much cheaper.
And because there is no contract you dont have to worry about being slammed and spammed.

Prepaid Scam (4.60 / 5) (#10)
by localroger on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:04:11 PM EST

I'm not sure if it's universal, but some providers actually sell you an account with money in it when they claim to be selling you minutes. If, later, they change the charge per minute, the number of minutes in your account drops suddenly. This happened to a friend of mine on a phone card while on vacation, leaving her suddenly reliant on collect calls to phone out.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

I've been considering this (4.50 / 6) (#11)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:11:47 PM EST

But last time I looked into pre-paid, the minutes expired after XX days. Things have probably changed now but I haven't done enough research to determine whether this will work for me. I'm considering teaming a pre-paid phone with a VOIP service but I'd like a VOIP system that will work from anywhere I can find a broadband connection. Most don't seem to be sufficiently portable for that.

[ Parent ]
What company is that? (2.50 / 2) (#40)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Sun May 19, 2002 at 08:22:19 PM EST

Here in NZ. Vodaphone seems popular for pre-paid (not sure if Telecom, Clear etc do pre-paid). Once you top it up, it expires after 1 year. I've always found that reasonable. Are they more stingy over there?

[ Parent ]
It's been a while... (3.50 / 2) (#49)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:07:04 PM EST

but the one pay-as-you-go service that was available about 3 years ago would "expire" the minutes after 90 days. That's not terrible but I'd really perfer a 1 or 2 year lifespan. That would give me the incentive to buy in bulk (generally many more minutes per dollar) when recharging. I might use an hour one month and ten hours the next week.

The little bit of research I've done lately indicates that there are also companies that have carried the peak/off-peak time concept into the realm of pre-paid and your account reflects its value in $$$ rather than minutes.

As usual, we've got a dozen different ways of accomplishing the same thing in the US. :)



[ Parent ]

I just checked Verizon's FreeUP. (3.50 / 2) (#55)
by jtown@punk.net on Mon May 20, 2002 at 12:17:34 AM EST

Minutes expire 60 days after they are activated when you buy $30 or more. If you buy less than $30 worth of airtime, it expires in 30 days.

[ Parent ]
Ouch! (2.50 / 2) (#68)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:47:35 AM EST

That's f'n harsh--even before I realised I had to double that $ figure.

Excuse me while I perform my lounge chair maths/economics: 30 x 12 = 360. $360 ($720 NZD) just to keep the phone out-going-call enabled?
If that was the case here. I wouldn't even own a cellphone! /me still wonders if I calculated that correctly.

Are they all like that in the US?
Wonder what Europe and that are like.

[ Parent ]

In Poland, Europe. (4.33 / 3) (#73)
by tekue on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:21:07 AM EST

Every cellphone operator here runs the pre-paid services, but they're almost the same. You can buy the 'pump-up' cards everywhere (newspaper stands, wending machines) in the cities, ranging (aproximatly, I don't use one) from 25PLN (~$6) to 150PLN (~$38). You need to pump-up your account every year.

The calling rates on those phones are rather harsh — something like 3-4PLN ($.75-$1) per minute, compared to 1-2PLN ($.25-$.50) per minute on my (commercial grade) account.

Note that we've been blessed with a monopoly in the cable telephony, so the competition in the cellular area is very good. The coverage of the country is almost full, mostly GSM-900, but a lot of GMS-1800 too (mostly in urban areas). You can use a two-system phone to use them as they are avilable.
--
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins
[ Parent ]

Get while the going's good (4.00 / 3) (#74)
by thebrix on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:32:06 AM EST

Don't know about the USA, but in the UK it's been made progressively more difficult to start pay-as-you-go accounts (rates made generally less attractive, start of 'off-peak hours' moved from 6pm to 7pm or even 8pm, 'banding' so that daytime rates are colossal [40p or 50p a minute], the startup cost of buying the phone increased, handset choice decreased).

This was because companies packed pay-as-you-go customers in with cheap rates and highly subsidised phones then assumed that they would pay back the cost of the phone in a given time by making enough calls. They didn't, so there's been a general move to contracts. (In the UK you are allowed to give up a contract without penalty if there are 'significant demerits' in any change; in any case it's risky for one mobile phone company to hike rates when there are five with national coverage, and the companies are also scared of bad publicity if they try to change existing contracts).

This may well happen all over again elsewhere, so I'd go for a good deal when you can.

(En passant I note the nomenclature is different:

'monthly billing' [USA] = 'contract' [UK]

'pre-paid' [USA] = 'pay-as-you-go' [UK]).

[ Parent ]

And... (none / 0) (#112)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:32:28 PM EST

A contract, in the US, means you commit to purchasing service for a particular term, usually a year.

Don't know if there's a term for that in the UK.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Online Charges (4.00 / 4) (#9)
by localroger on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:01:44 PM EST

One thing to consider when comparing Nextel to other services, since you apparently use yours for 'net access, is that only Nextel allows data access without charging your minutes. All other providers (I have Sprint) charge your online time to your minutes, which drains your account rapidly if you use it for much.

I agree the arbitrary changing of terms sucks, though. Unfortunately all these companies are facing tough times and are likely to pull such stunts. The theory goes that you voluntarily signed the contract with the one-way escape clause, but if those are the only types of contract being offered and you need the service, the free market don't look so free any more.

I can haz blog!

What? (3.00 / 3) (#13)
by henrik on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:27:40 PM EST

Are they also going to reimburse you for the cost of your fancy phone accessories? Are they going to contact everyone in your life to give them your new number. Not a chance.
Eh? You simply call another provider, open an account and ask them to send you a new sim chip and tell them you'd like to transfer your number to the new account. I've never heard of phones that couldn't work with all operators all over the world.

Am i missing something obvious here? I feel a bit stupid for not understanding the authors grief.

Akademiska Intresseklubben antecknar!

GSM phones can be locked... (4.20 / 5) (#14)
by aziegler on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:34:55 PM EST

This doesn't apply to the poster's rant, as Nextel is merely a PCS solution, but GSM phones can be locked to a particular provider. One of the cellphones that I have from Fido is locked to Fido -- and it will cost me $100 or so to get it unlocked so that I could go with a rival GSM provider, or even move to London or Berlin and use the phone with a British or German provider.

The other two phones, however (including the Handspring Treo I recently obtained) are unlocked and are fully portable. If I had purchased the Treo through Rogers AT&T, then I would be unable to get the phone unlocked at all (per Rogers reps, they simply do NOT unlock phones at all; however, I have heard that they may -- for a $200 fee over). Given that Rogers is charging CDN $999 for a Treo (with a 1 year contract), they want me to pay more than $200 more than I did for my Treo.

-austin

[ Parent ]

That is crap (3.33 / 3) (#16)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:53:46 PM EST

I didn't realise they could do that. Is it a 1900Mhz-only phone by any chance ? I've never heard of such a thing being sold here.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Really? (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by ambrosen on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:02:45 PM EST

IIRC you're in the UK. Orange certainly does this with its contract phones, and all the providers do with Pay As You Go phones, although I came across one on BT Cellnet which hadn't been locked. Unlocking is normally charged at about 30 quid, although I think that Oftel, the regulator, had to step in for that to happen.

--
Procrastination does not make you cool. Being cool makes you procrastinate. DesiredUsername.
[ Parent ]
Pay As You Go (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:07:21 PM EST

I had a Vodafone PAYG phone that could be switched. I've put Orange and Cellnet SIM cards in it, as well as other Vodafone ones, and its worked fine. Or do you mean the SIM was set to only work with the one network, rather than the phone ?

Interesting, though. I hadn't realised they did that, although I suppose it makes sense.


Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Not just the sim. (3.50 / 2) (#39)
by haakon on Sun May 19, 2002 at 07:13:02 PM EST

The phone can be locked to only accept a certain SIM card. However, the unlock code is stored in the phones memory. I have seen people scan through the phones memory to retrive the unlock code. This metheod doesn't work on every phone though.

[ Parent ]
No. (3.50 / 2) (#70)
by ambrosen on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:08:03 AM EST

The phone can be locked to a particular service provider. (UK-centric bit) Orange & T-Mobile contract phones seem to do this, as well as nearly all pay as you go phones. I've used Vodafone PAYG phones that wouldn't take another Vodafone SIM card.

There is also the ability to lock to a particular SIM card, which is a desirable security feature, and easily changed in the security settings of the phone, as long as you know its lock code.

--
Procrastination does not make you cool. Being cool makes you procrastinate. DesiredUsername.
[ Parent ]

BTCellnet (aka O2) (3.50 / 2) (#78)
by vrai on Mon May 20, 2002 at 09:51:11 AM EST

I've had three phones from BTCellnet: a Nokia 65xx, Nokia 7110, and a Nokia 8890. These were all bought from the BTCellnet shop (12 month contract, £12.99 per month) and none of them were blocked (I've lent the handsets to mates with Vodaphone, One-2-One, and Orange SIMs with no problems). So O2 are a safe bet if you want to 'stray'.

I've never used a pay as you go phone so I can't comment. Given that PAYG phones are a loss-leader for the networks it would make sense that you are locked into using their SIMs. Phone companies are not charities (except when they're buying G3 frequencies :)!

[ Parent ]

Liars (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by DarkZero on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:43:23 PM EST

If this is true, which according to the first reply it is, then the mobile phone providers in the United States are liars. They will tell you that you need a new phone for their service... one which is sold by them in their stores. Thankfully, my mother (the only one in the family with a cellphone) needed to get a new phone anyway when she switched services, because the original phone was a cheap piece of shit that had tons of problems unrelated to the service provider. However, we met several sales reps, and each of them would try to hit her up for a new and more expensive phone when they knew that she already had one, but didn't know that it was broken.

[ Parent ]
You often do ... (4.33 / 3) (#19)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:59:57 PM EST

... either because the network you're switching to uses a different technology, or because the phone is locked to a specific network. Things work differently here in Yurp (Henrik is Swedish, I think). All European networks use GSM on the 1800 or 900 band, and almost all phones are dual band. The phone is configured by a little smart card called a SIM card, usually hidden behind the battery, that you can pull out and replace, or move to a differen phone.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Yankee phones (4.66 / 3) (#18)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun May 19, 2002 at 05:56:30 PM EST

As I understand it, American cellphone networks use several different technologies: CDMA, PCS, GSM (only on a different band to everyone else), and so on. Some of the phones for these technologies do not use SIM cards the way European GSM phones do.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Not that simple. (3.66 / 3) (#24)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:06:51 PM EST

Nextel uses a unique system. Only their phones can use their system and their phones don't work on any other system.

If you've never heard of phones that can't work with operators all over the world, you must not be from the US.

[ Parent ]

North American Cell Phones (3.90 / 10) (#23)
by DarkZero on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:04:57 PM EST

People have repeatedly tried to get me to buy a cell phone. Just about everyone I know has one and tries to convince me to get one. My mother even bought me one once, but I eventually brought it back to the store and refused to get another one. I just can't see the point. In the United States, cell phones have horrible connections, tons of static, and regularly disconnect. Even worse, every brand of cell phone is proprietary and requires you to buy accessories specifically for that phone and no other. The services also aren't any better. You have to pay by the minute, have a small number of minutes per month that are "free", and get a small amount of time at night when you can make shitty calls for free until they disconnect and leave you repeating, "Hello? Can you hear me?" into the phone like a jackass.

I don't understand why people stand for this. My home entertainment system is made up of a Zenith TV, a JVC DVD player, a Sony PlayStation 2, a no-name VCR, a Samsung satellite receiver, and a Kenwood sound system. My computer is made up of AT LEAST a dozen different brands. In fact, none of the parts, internal or external, are from the same company. And even if I were to buy an Apple, a proprietary computer with proprietary parts and software, I wouldn't be contractually and physically required to use Apple's internet service (which is the case with European GSM cell phones, or at least that's what I'm told). That internet service also wouldn't be the only application of my Mac, either, so I could actually do things with it other than use a service that I have to pay for by the minute. Obviously, we don't stand for this sort of bullshit in any other area of electronics, or even anywhere else in our lives for that matter. Proprietary hardware that's only use is an expensive paid service is about as anticompetitive and anti-consumer as a market can get. We don't stand for this with electronics, we don't stand for this with cars, we don't stand for it with building materials... we don't stand for this with ANYTHING ELSE. So why are people putting up with a service that robs them of their money and gives them an extremely shitty service in return?

Personally, I think they're either desperate for personal reasons or just a little stupid. That's my answer. My other answer is that I'm going to stay in the luddite dark ages of normal phone use until cell phones offer me something other than a rip-off. I'd love to have one, but I really, really hate getting ripped off. I guess I'm alone on the latter part.

Where the hell do you live? (4.00 / 3) (#28)
by Icehouseman on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:27:11 PM EST

I have none of the problems with my cell phone that you mentioned. I have 2500 minutes. That's about 42 hours of talk time, a month for about $35 a month. I have yet to have a call disconnected by my phone. I don't know what your problem is. I agreed to buy the phone. You decide not to buy the phone, fair enough. But don't lie. I once talked to my sister for 35 minutes around 9:00 pm, and we weren't disconnnected. I never had problems with this phone and I have never heard of anyone else having those problems you mentioned above. I know most people would rather have cell phones than home phones. Home phones get raided by telemarketers and put in a big phone book for everyone to see and they usually cost more in the long run. No privacy at all. I'd just like to know where you live that the service is that bad? Canada?
----------------
Bush's $3 trillion state is allegedly a mark of "anti-government bias" on the right. -- Anthony Gregory
[ Parent ]
disconnect (4.33 / 3) (#35)
by fluffy grue on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:58:23 PM EST

I've had a few calls get disconnected, but they were all with my mom and she was on her cellphone, and she goes through Verizon.

But yeah, I've had calls which lasted 2-3 hours without a hitch. (Calls of that length are not ordinary for me, of course.)

The only reason I have a phoneline at all is for my computer. Dialed up 24 hours a day. That's also the phone number I give people who I don't want to get calls from (like in product registrations), since they'll just always get a busy signal or (in odd circumstances) no answer and so they'll have no reason to flag my record as "needs updating" or anything.

The only call I've gotten on my cellphone even remotely like telemarketing was when I bought my car, Toyota called me to take their satisfaction survey, whereas for the brief period of time that I was using my landline for voice as well as computer (when I first moved here), I got shitloads of telemarketing calls (most of them from the phone company) when I'd not even given the number out yet!
--
"#kuro5hin [is like] a daycare center [where] the babysitter had been viciously murdered." -- CaptainObvious (we
[ Parent ]

New Jersey (3.00 / 2) (#77)
by DarkZero on Mon May 20, 2002 at 08:39:46 AM EST

Here in New Jersey (United States), calls are marred by static and they disconnect regularly. In fact, there are several "dead zones", one of which includes the entire neighborhood that my house is in. The odd thing, though, is that it's the same thing for my friends, but they all keep their cell phones. They regularly lose the signal for a little bit or just disconnect entirely, but they still keep their cell phones, just like everyone is. Also, all of them have, at most, about 300 minutes, not "42 hours of talk time".

But this also isn't a regional problem. My mother has problems with her cell phone wherever she goes, even if we go clear across the country or north into Canada, and so do the people from Seattle, Ohio, and Canada that we've travelled with. I've never seen ANYONE'S cell phone work the way it's supposed to and I don't know anyone that uses their cell phone as their primary phone.

[ Parent ]

Suburbs (4.33 / 3) (#83)
by duffbeer703 on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:06:52 AM EST

This is because suburbanites don't want cellphone towers to damage their property values.

Town zoning boards regularly shoot down cell station proposals, even when its one of the new low-power camoflauged transmitters.

[ Parent ]

Well that makes sense. (3.00 / 1) (#100)
by Icehouseman on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:17:01 PM EST

People in the mid-west (Iowa) are a bit more logical. They would rather have their signals work. I see cell phone towers everywhere around here and like I said I never have a problem. I know a lot of people who have discarded their crappy, over priced home phone deals for cell phones. I live in an apartment where we don't even have a regular phone, we stick with our cells, plus the long distance is free.
----------------
Bush's $3 trillion state is allegedly a mark of "anti-government bias" on the right. -- Anthony Gregory
[ Parent ]
Not just suburbs (3.00 / 1) (#101)
by DarkZero on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:25:47 PM EST

I've also never seen a cellphone work in Maine, even when I can SEE the damn cellphone tower from across the town because it's on a hill. Beyond that, no one around me has ever had a decent cell connection in Seattle, Toronto, New York, Denver, or any of their surrounding cities.

[ Parent ]
Reason for that (3.00 / 1) (#113)
by duffbeer703 on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:38:45 PM EST

Most of the high frequency digital phone towers work only up to a limited range, sometimes as low at 1/4 mile.

As far as big cities go, that is phone and phone carrier dependent. I've never had a problem with a Sprint StarTac (with reception, anyway) in NYC or Boston. Maybe I was there on a good day though.


[ Parent ]

Damn (none / 0) (#129)
by Rizzen on Thu May 23, 2002 at 03:08:47 PM EST

Your friends need to get better phones.  :)  Ditch the analog crap and go digital.  Haven't had a problem with static, disconnect, drop-off, etc since going digital.  The cell works great here in town, in Vancouver, in Prince George, Toronto, Calgary, and a couple of small hick towns in BC.  Everyone I know in Toronto (ok, so it's only about a dozen people, but still) have cell phones and they work great.  The only place I've been that has crummy cell service is the Yukon.  But they have crummy phone service, period (stupid NorthWest-Tel).

.
The years of peak mental activity are undoubtedly those between the ages of 4 and 18. At age four, we know all the questions; at eighteen, all the answers.
[ Parent ]

Indeed. (3.50 / 2) (#106)
by rantweasel on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:35:05 PM EST

A friend of mine works in CRM (cultural resource management), and does site surveys for cell towers and the like.  She's based in New Jersey, in fact, and the reason that New Jersey has such terrible cell reception is that the suburbanites are so horrified of the idea of cell towers and they implement such stringent zoning laws that there are a lot of towns (and counties, even) where cell towers imply can't be installed.  Of course, these same suburbanites have no problem with Philly suffering so that they can drive their SUVs to work, make their cell calls from my neighborhood, etc...  It's NIMBY turning around and biting them in the ass, and I love it.  New Jersey sucks.

mathias, not even slightly bitter.

[ Parent ]

I didn't have much choice (4.60 / 5) (#29)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:32:53 PM EST

When I moved to my current house, PacHell couldn't install a phone line. It took them a week to figure out that it would take another month to dig a trench and run new wire. When I asked where this trench needed to be dug the person on the other end said she wasn't sure. When I first answered the phone, she introduced herself as the person in charge of the local engineering group. Funny how she can be in charge and have no idea what her people are doing.

So I went to Cellular One (my previous provider) and said, "Gimme a phone." I walked out with a working phone in under 20 minutes. Came back a few days later and got a $50 credit for my old cell phone.

That's why I have a cell phone. And why I don't have a regular phone. :)

Well, that's one reason. I also carry one because I ride motorcycles. If I ever get a flat tire, I don't want to have to trudge a mile to the next emergency phone to call for help. And if I run off the road into a ditch, I'd like to be able to call for help (assuming the crash didn't kill me). Just running off the road on a motorcycle could easily result in non-fatal injuries that leave me unable to do much but crawl to the bike and get the phone. Forget about climbing an embankment.

There are plenty of reasons to have a cell phone.

[ Parent ]

Calling for help (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by acceleriter on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:38:34 PM EST

If I ever get a flat tire, I don't want to have to trudge a mile to the next emergency phone to call for help. And if I run off the road into a ditch, I'd like to be able to call for help (assuming the crash didn't kill me).

If you live in the United States, the FCC requires cellular providers to allow phones to call 911, even if they are not activated for service. This site recommends an analog phone for that purpose. Here is the referenced regulation.

[ Parent ]

911 isn't for flat tires. (4.00 / 3) (#48)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:01:24 PM EST

:) I know you were talking more about the "laying in a ditch" scenario but, honestly, the flat tire is much more likely. And, yes, I could probably use an inactive cell phone and a credit card to place a regular call if it came to that but it's the principle of the thing.

[ Parent ]
easy solution for the flat tire; (none / 0) (#126)
by chopper on Tue May 21, 2002 at 02:54:25 PM EST

do like i do: ride a Vespa

60 mpg, 70 mph, lots o' style, and best of all, a spare tire under the left cowl.

i get a flat, and its a quick swap with the spare, and down the road i goes.

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish
[ Parent ]

At least someone else agrees with me (4.33 / 3) (#38)
by rodoke3 on Sun May 19, 2002 at 07:08:04 PM EST

<p>I also agree with you as far as cellular phones go.  Unless my employers require me to get one <b>and</b> they pay for it, I will never use a cellular phone for normal calls.  I have one (given to me by my mother) which I only use to make outgoing calls, otherwise the power is off.  People pressure me because they know I have a cellular phone, yet they wonder why I don't like to be able to be bothered twenty-four hours a day.  However, these people are the same ones who have a problem operating the (manual) locks and windows on my car, so I digress.  To me, it's a privacy issue;  I don't like people being able to reach me that easily.</p>

<p>However, I think that there are two reasons the cellular phone business is the way it is today.  First, cellular phones are looked upon as not only a phone, but as a status symbol.  When something is seen as cool(especially to younger people), people are willing to put up with crap and spend ungodly amounts of money to get that status.  Secondly, it may be partially because cellular phones are part of a relativly new market.  A lot of new technology markets tend to be flooded with proprietary technologies from companies thinking that through success, their design will become the standard.</p>

I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


[ Parent ]
Corporate dissonance? (3.50 / 2) (#58)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:05:12 AM EST

-----"I don't understand why people stand for this. My home entertainment system is made up of a Zenith TV, a JVC DVD player, a Sony PlayStation 2, a no-name VCR, a Samsung satellite receiver, and a Kenwood sound system. My computer is made up of AT LEAST a dozen different brands. In fact, none of the parts, internal or external, are from the same company. And even if I were to buy an Apple, a proprietary computer with proprietary parts and software, I wouldn't be contractually and physically required to use Apple's internet service (which is the case with European GSM cell phones, or at least that's what I'm told). That internet service also wouldn't be the only application of my Mac, either, so I could actually do things with it other than use a service that I have to pay for by the minute. Obviously, we don't stand for this sort of bullshit in any other area of electronics, or even anywhere else in our lives for that matter. Proprietary hardware that's only use is an expensive paid service is about as anticompetitive and anti-consumer as a market can get. We don't stand for this with electronics, we don't stand for this with cars, we don't stand for it with building materials... we don't stand for this with ANYTHING ELSE. So why are people putting up with a service that robs them of their money and gives them an extremely shitty service in return?
"-----

Simply, about the multiple parts in computer systems and such, I just vote with my money. Mentioning closed-hardware makes me shudder. I've bought components from vendors that aren't ashamed to give driver code. I have a ATi graphics card (all in wonder 128) which works better under linux than it does in Win2k (the Windows I run). I've also purchased a SB Live and a Creative ISA hardware modem. I've had no headaches due to this hardware, because developers are allowed to see how to access those respective cards.

I see that my above statements hold true for what you say.

---"Proprietary hardware that's only use is an expensive paid service is about as anticompetitive and anti-consumer as a market can get."---

If hardware manufacturers are ashamed to let us see how they control their boards, should we buy from them? Hardware manufacturers dont make money from selling the drivers, they DO make money from selling hardware AND drivers. People just wouldnt buy if there was no driver software. After all, all those hardware only supported by Version XYZ in MS Windows is equalivalently bad. My 9 year old sister has a Win98 only printer (one of the 49$ specials). There are no other drivers, even for newer MS Window builds. I constantly look towards the future when I build systems. Who's going to support me the best. In my answer, developer-friendly companies.

[ Parent ]

Trying to clear myself up... (3.00 / 1) (#61)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:40:31 AM EST

In this quote from the maker of the thread:

---"Proprietary hardware that's only use is an expensive paid service is about as anticompetitive and anti-consumer as a market can get."---

He was talking about cell-phones and the required service. I'm making the connection to cell-phones and the computer world. I'll reword the sentance to describe what I mean.

"Proprietary computer hardware that's only use is an expensive, untrustworthy OS is about as anti-consumer as a hardware company can go."

And as a disclaimer, I'm not a Linux zealot. I use it, of course. I also use 2k and 98 extensively. I'm not exactly anti-MS either. I am, however, pro-security, pro-control, and am against tattletale code in programs (lest that be OS'es or user programs). Because of not trusting what kind of data is sent over during registration, and that I am a hardware tinkerer, I will not use WinXP. If the tattletale stuff is taken away, I'll try it. Simply put: I get lots of older, free hardware. I need to test it. WIth older Windows OS'es, it's not a problem :-) With XP, all I need to do is switch the ethernet cards to find working ones 6 times before registering again. That's crap. Since I prefer not to fiddle with registration control cracks, I'll not use it. Im happy with 2K and slackware Linux :-)

[ Parent ]

Not north american phones (3.00 / 1) (#95)
by katie on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:29:56 PM EST

Of course, there is a downside to the european GSM phone system: because the phones aren't linked to a given provider, and are therefore easy to resell, the hip crime of the moment in the UK is stealing mobile phones. Sometimes you just grab them and run off, sometimes you shoot the person, grab the phone and run off. In extremis, grab the phone, shoot the person anyway and run off...

[ Parent ]
Locking (none / 0) (#119)
by thebrix on Tue May 21, 2002 at 08:37:43 AM EST

In the United Kingdom this problem is supposed to be tackled by this summer, where both phone and SIM card will be capable of being disabled remotely.

At the moment, the SIM card can be disabled but the phone itself cannot be; there's a little problemette whereby the IMEI number (unique phone identifier) can be changed. This is being got round by basing disablement on the IMEI number and making changing the IMEI number an offence.

[ Parent ]

Yeah, I liked the pitch on that one... (none / 0) (#120)
by katie on Tue May 21, 2002 at 12:22:06 PM EST

...after all, these are people who've just SHOT SOMEONE. They're bound to be put off by making something illegal...

The phone companies don't want to stop the thefts happening, I can't help but wonder if this is because they make their money as service, not hardware, providers..


[ Parent ]

A few United Kingdom points (3.50 / 2) (#98)
by thebrix on Mon May 20, 2002 at 03:53:52 PM EST

America evidently has problems as a lot of the issues you mention aren't relevant here:

1. You're partly right; when you have "Internet" access through WAP or GPRS (note quotes :) your first page is forced to be a portal owned by the mobile phone operator. However, you can go anywhere else thereafter by typing in URLs.

2. With GSM (European mobile telephony standard) phones are generic and interchangeable and there are easily a dozen different manufacturers; you insert a SIM card (a little chip about the size of a thumbnail which contains your 'logon details') into any GSM phone and away you go. In practice there may be restrictions as SIM cards can be locked to one phone by the service provider, although they are obliged to be unlockable and the whole practice may soon be banned.

3. The accessories are not generally interchangeable although, with Bluetooth, that will change; before now there has been a lack of standards for GSM interconnectivity which meant that, most notably, cables to connect mobile phone to laptop have been astonishingly expensive.

4. In the United Kingdom there are five competing operators (O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone) each with almost complete geographical coverage.

5. Pay-as-you-go mobile can work out cheaper than a land line :)

[ Parent ]

A few (wrong?) United Kingdom points (3.50 / 2) (#107)
by Homburg on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:43:45 PM EST

1. You're partly right; when you have "Internet" access through WAP or GPRS (note quotes :) your first page is forced to be a portal owned by the mobile phone operator.
Not on either of the two WAP phones I've had (A Siemens on BT Cellnet and a Nokia on Orange, FWIW). You can use any WAP provide you like, and set any page you want as your homepage, or just go direct to any of your bookmarks. Where are you getting your information from?

[ Parent ]
Vodafone and One2One mobiles (none / 0) (#118)
by thebrix on Tue May 21, 2002 at 08:30:32 AM EST

Evidently there's a 2-2 draw, with one unknown (Virgin Mobile), as both these force the portal (the Vodafone one to a particularly awful service called Vizzavi).

Things must have changed because, when I was a BT Cellnet (WAP) subscriber, the front page was forced. However, I finished with them more than a year ago ...

(To try to untangle the blizzard of names, BT Cellnet is now O2 and One2One is now T-Mobile :)

[ Parent ]

No. (none / 0) (#125)
by ambrosen on Tue May 21, 2002 at 02:04:25 PM EST

My mobile on a GSM contract has had maybe 100 different sets of gateway settings put on it in the last 15 months, and they've all worked. I've not come across many phones that actually restrict you. A Motorola P7389 on Orange is the only one I can think of.

--
Procrastination does not make you cool. Being cool makes you procrastinate. DesiredUsername.
[ Parent ]
Contract shop then. (2.66 / 6) (#31)
by rebelcool on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:35:07 PM EST

Nextel is certainly not the end-all of cell phone providers. Visit others and see what they offer you.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

There were two choices. (4.66 / 3) (#34)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:53:46 PM EST

I had very specific requirements when I was shopping for a phone. I needed lots of evening/weekend minutes and I needed to be able to make data calls. There were two companies in my area who could do this at the time. Cingulair and Nextel.

Cingulair's base rate was half that of Nextel but they charge $0.15/minute for data calls. Other than that, their services (at least the ones I cared about) were virtually identical. When Cingulair switched to a 9pm start time for off-peak billing, I ordered my Nextel phone.

Things haven't changed here and it doesn't look like they will for quite a while. If i want serious wireless access it looks like I'll have to team up with a local community wireless project and start pushing. Either that or I'll have to sit on the lawn outside the art center and leech off their open WAP with my 802.11b card. :)

[ Parent ]

I believe there are already laws (4.00 / 4) (#32)
by zvpunry on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:37:27 PM EST

I hope other K5ers can provide links, because a quick search turned up nothing. But, I believe things like night-time hours cannot be legally changed unless you explicitly ask for another plan. I always understood this as the law. We're still at 8pm - 8am, even though SprintPCS changed their new plans to 9pm a while back.

Additionally, my wife was able to double our anytime minutes, by "transferring" extra minutes from our night-time minutes...without changing our plan. Unfortunately, she did this while I was sleeping and ended up agreeing to an additional one year contract (I would not have accepted those terms).

I don't know about other plan changes, however. I wonder if the "accept or quit" alternative is legally enforcable?

It would have been nice to have had some of these questions answered in the story.


It would have been nice (3.66 / 3) (#37)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 07:05:09 PM EST

to have those answers in the story but IANAL. And I seriously doubt if there are any laws on the books that specifically address evening minutes on cell phone contracts. Laws are rarely that specific.

What would really help is a "Contract Law for Dummies" book. I'm sure that there is plenty of stuff (maybe even some laws) out there that cover contracts and whether it is legal to include a "we reserve the right to change anything" clause in a contract that allows only one side to make changes.

[ Parent ]

It always would have been nice (3.50 / 2) (#56)
by zvpunry on Mon May 20, 2002 at 12:27:43 AM EST

to have those answers in the story but IANAL. And I seriously doubt if there are any laws on the books that specifically address evening minutes on cell phone contracts. Laws are rarely that specific.

Two things. First, I meant it would have been nice for some references, some links. I did some searching for about fifty minutes or so, and didn't find anything immediately relevant. All I found were successful and settled and pending class action lawsuits. (cf. the consumer affairs web site). I know I remember a newspaper article about this very subject last fall, though.

Second, with the FCC and FTC, specific laws are very much alive and well. Not always for the better, mind you. There might also be court cases that provide precedence for interpreting existing trade laws. The Unfair Trade Practices Act (UFTPA) may or may not play a role.

Anyway, I voted the story +1. As I said above, I hope other K5ers will post relevant links.

[ Parent ]

There are (4.50 / 2) (#59)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:22:10 AM EST

The books that law students normally are required to have for class are casebooks. They just consist of a whole ton of real cases that are edited down a bit, so as to illustrate various topics. They still have to be read carefully, and you still need to follow the prof's lead to see what the point is, however.

Since that's kind of a pain in the ass, a lot of students also pick up a commercial outline that gives Cliff's Notes type summaries of the cases, and of the general legal principles at work. In my Con Law class this past semester, virtually everyone used them instead of actually doing the assigned reading. They're also popular when studying for exams, as I can attest to with Civil Procedure and Criminal Law.

Anyway, try picking up "Contracts: Examples and Explanations" at your local law school bookstore.

(and you'd be amazed at how specific laws can get -- I have little doubt that the FCC has some legally binding regulations on the books someplace as to cellphone plans)

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

Contracts (4.57 / 7) (#33)
by Matrix on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:37:29 PM EST

This seems to be a recent and widespread practice. Have you ever looked at software EULAs? Or web site 'usage' agreements? The same kind of thing applies there. Rights regarding the contract are granted to the company and withheld from you. In many cases, the only rationale is that the customer, if they could edit the terms, would remove all the ones beneficial solely to the company. I say this is a good thing. Perhaps it would result in contracts that were narrower in scope and containing saner terms.

Anyone got an explanation as to why this has been allowed to stand so long? One would think that providers reserving the exclusive right to modify the contract and allowing no negotiation would attract the attention of contract lawyers, if not the courts. Or is this somehow not just allowed, but specially permitted in contract law?


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

It used to work out allright. (3.75 / 4) (#36)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 06:59:40 PM EST

My first cell phone had a home area of 2 counties. By the time I switched providers, the entire state was my home area. Per-minute fees had also been cut nearly in half. I could live with those changes because they added value to the service that I was receiving.

As for EULAs, they're already getting reined in. I remember a post on slashdot not too long ago that talked about reselling bundled software. A judge ruled that the EULA was invalid (at least that particular part of it) and that bundled software could be resold. (Bundled software is the stuff that says, "This may only be sold with a new computer.") It's happening. Slowly.

[ Parent ]

Nits (4.66 / 3) (#60)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:25:32 AM EST

You're thinking of the Softman case. The court there didn't rule that the EULA was invalid, though it was probably itching to. Rather, it held that the EULA simply didn't apply, because the software had not been opened or used or anything. A cardboard box with stuff in it was bought (which didn't trigger the EULA) and it was sold again.

And anyway, this bundle consisted of several retail boxes of software being shrinkwrapped together by the mfgr. -- literally bundled -- and was never preloaded on any computer. All the defendant did was cut open the shrinkwrap and sell each box seperately.

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

Editing the terms (4.00 / 5) (#44)
by acceleriter on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:32:33 PM EST

In many cases, the only rationale is that the customer, if they could edit the terms, would remove all the ones beneficial solely to the company.

Often the terms of service for web sites are displayed in editable text boxes. Thus, I edit down the legalese to something like "foobar.com agrees to provide me sexual favors and all the fried chicken I can eat" or somesuch. Yes, I know they can't tell, that it doesn't matter, and that it's got about the same chance of holding up in court as the original terms. But it makes me feel better when I edit down their one-sided "contracts." :).

[ Parent ]

Re: Editing the terms (4.40 / 5) (#50)
by swr on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:08:37 PM EST

Often the terms of service for web sites are displayed in editable text boxes. Thus, I edit down the legalese to something like "foobar.com agrees to provide me sexual favors and all the fried chicken I can eat" or somesuch.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer...

Editing out terms you don't agree to should be perfectly valid. If they don't actually check that you have agreed to the terms as they have written them, but allow you access to the web site anyway, that is Their Problem (TM). After all, contracts are supposed to be negotiable.

I don't think you can bind them to the terms you enter, though, because you haven't actually received any expression of agreement from them. You might be able to add a "by allowing me access to your website you are agreeing to the terms set out in this agreement" (much like the "by using this software..." in EULAs), but I don't think that would hold when there is no human on the other end to read it.

But again, I'm not a lawyer, so none of the above should be considered legal advise.



[ Parent ]
Misinformation about Contracts (3.00 / 1) (#96)
by Ruidh on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:47:17 PM EST

After all, contracts are supposed to be negotiable.

Who says? Do you have a reference for this assertion. In fact, there is a class of contracts which are largely unable to be modified even by agreement of the contracting parties. In the US (and in many places around the world), retail insurance contracts have to be approved by the state insurance regulators and only approved contracts may be used with only customization to specify the insured, amounts of coverage and such.


"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
[ Parent ]
Insurance (3.00 / 2) (#99)
by Matrix on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:11:34 PM EST

Yes, but this is because Insurance contracts are so widely-used. In fact, they're often required by law. In this case, requiring government approval of contracts places the burden of insuring the contract's fairness on the government, not on the parties entering into it. Note that in this case, neither gets any say in the contents. This is quite different from the case where one party dictates terms to another, often after an exchange of money has already taken place.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Basic deficiencies of law (4.66 / 3) (#75)
by thebrix on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:49:26 AM EST

It seems there are real, fundamental problems on because, in the UK, many of the issues noted don't exist. This is precisely because the law notes that the imbalance between consumer and organisation is colossal and is written to reflect this.

For example, a consumer contract is binding on both sides. If a contract change is suggested the consumer can cancel with 30 days' notice; furthermore, there must be 30 days' written notice of the change, and the entire contract, not just the changed parts, must be presented as part of the notification.

If the contract is frustrated (a complex legal term which essentially means 'changed without notification') it can be cancelled immediately by the consumer.

Furthermore, consumer contracts must be stated in standard English; there's none of the 'henceforths' and 'notwithstandings' often seen.

There's a problem with 12 month minimum terms in some cases (so, if you cancel the contract, you're bound to pay up to the end) but I believe such terms are on the way out; soon a 1 month notice period will be imposed.

A 1994 act was a huge breakthrough in all this, and has been used as a weapon several times by me :)

[ Parent ]

Freedom and Competition (4.88 / 9) (#41)
by directed ascent on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:07:36 PM EST

I agree with you: the situation sucks. As a Sprint user, I've experienced some of the same problems: less off-peak time, etc.

So the question is: What do we do about it? The unchallenged assumption is that the government should regulate the kind of service plans and terms being offered. Perhaps. But there's another kind of answer: competition.

Instead of allowing these huge monopolies to grow, and then afterwards complaining about the situations they are now free to lock us into, one answer involves enforcing the existing anti-trust laws before these huge monopolies or near-monopolies exist. Three cell phone providers is not a real option. Neither is one cable TV company and 2/3 satelite TV providers. Stop approving all the mergers. Enforce the old media-holding limits.

Another answer might be to form consumers unions. We could band together and support collective bargaining power. We could all draft a contract for the kind of service we want, sign it ourselves, then shop it around to the lowest bidder. Of course, we'd be legally bound to keep it, but that's no different than the current situation.

Credit companies are able to shaft us with 21% not just because the feds allow 'em too, but because we continue to sign up for the contracts. If all or even just many of us would stop putting up with this garbage, things would improve.

But often we just sigh, and move on with it, because we're not disgusted enough to stop watching TV, or stop carrying a cell phone. We figure we have to put up with it and there's no choice so we sign up again, and say: "Yep, you can shaft me! I'll reward you with more profit! Thanks!"

And don't get me started on the actual cost of manufacturing CDs... ;-)

Cell Phone Cooperatives (3.00 / 4) (#42)
by opendna on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:23:09 PM EST

Gather a user base of cell phone users and shop around to providers with a collective contract.

I like that. I wonder how many members you'd need to attract attention. An idea seriously worth considering, IMHO.



[ Parent ]

It depends. (4.00 / 2) (#64)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:50:08 AM EST

I'd say it depends mostly on how localized your collective is. In a single metropolitan area, I'd guess around 100,000 users would certainly be enough to enable collective bargaining.

It's all about profit. This plan will only succeed if you can offer the phone company a better deal than they can pick up off the streets. Their costs will be higher for such a collective agreement, if for no other reason than that you need someone to negotiate the agreement. The two easiest ways to provide sufficent incentive are to have a large userbase (thus offsetting their extra costs through an economy of scale, and hopefully also allowing them to pick up customers from their compeditors) or to pay more.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Maybe even 10,000 would do it... (3.50 / 2) (#80)
by bdjohns1 on Mon May 20, 2002 at 10:35:27 AM EST

I know Sprint does offer discounts on rate plans for individuals affiliated with a company that's made arrangements with them. I'm getting 23% off on my monthly bill (plus I got a better sign-up deal). So, my $29.95 (pre-tax) bill becomes ~$25 ( + tax - discounts). Supposedly, the more people we get to sign up on our plan, the bigger the discount gets.

So yeah, if you could get a 100,000 customer collective together, you could probably round up a rather good deal.

[ Parent ]

Not a viable option... (5.00 / 2) (#102)
by SPYvSPY on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:46:24 PM EST

In my job, I've represented companies with user bases as large as 25,000 in competitive bids for wireless telephone service. Get this...every single wireless provider brings their standard consumer contract to the table. It is absurd. They don't care about volume, because they are 100% focused on "off the shelf" sales. In the end, I wrote the contract, and the volume discounts were hard-fought and were seriously compromised by the endless reams of conditions and stipulations that are required by these companies due to the complex partnering networks. Perhaps things have changed in the year since I did one of these deals.
------------------------------------------------

By replying to this or any other comment in this thread, you assign an equal share of all worldwide copyright in such reply to each of the other readers of this site.
[ Parent ]

Mergers (4.50 / 2) (#66)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 03:10:08 AM EST

Are not necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest problems with wireless telephony in the US is that there is too much competition.

How can this be? Well, wireless operators' profit margin depends on an extreme economy of scale. If there is excess competition, then none of the companies have enough customers to really achieve a good economy of scale. And excess competition drives companies to cost-cutting measures, including poor customer service.

There is a balance between a monopoly (or polygopoly) and artificially high competition. Go to far to either side and detrimental effects occur.

There was an excellent (though now somewhat out of date) article about the economics of mobile phone operators in the US in the October 7th, 1999 edition of The Economist. If you're a subscriber you can access it: The article is entitled "Call waiting". Otherwise, you could try your local library.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

it's oligopoly... (3.50 / 2) (#69)
by bjod on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:51:25 AM EST

...not polygopoly, unless you're talking about something else...

[ Parent ]
You are correct. (none / 0) (#87)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:19:15 PM EST

My error.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
It's not just the number of providers... (4.00 / 2) (#103)
by flimflam on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:50:16 PM EST

Three or four providers wouldn't be that bad if you could actually switch between them. But to switch from (say) AT&T to Sprint now requires buying a new phone, getting a new number and signing a new contract. I should be able to buy the phone I want and then shop around for the best service. If at some point I'm not happy with my service I should be able to switch to another provider (and keep my phone and number). If I can't do that, it doesn't matter how many providers there are.

-- I am always optimistic, but frankly there is no hope. --Hosni Mubarek
[ Parent ]
The problem is... (none / 0) (#127)
by sully on Tue May 21, 2002 at 02:59:14 PM EST

As was stated before, that the different networks use different technologies. Chances are, the phone you used with AT&T simply won't work on Sprint's network. It's all too tempting to want to introduce legislation to ensure fairness to consumers. The only way to ensure that a customer can simply up and switch providers is for the government to decide what sort of mobile network the companies should operate. Sure, PCS might have been a better system, but Joe Schmoe on the FCC panel responsible for deciding such things has a cousin who works for AT&T, and now we're stuck with legally mandated inferior technology. (I'd be interested to know some more about how it works in Europe, since the cell networks seem to be interoperable there - is it legislated, an industry agreement, etc.?)

While it's perfectly understandable to want such things as network-portable phones and network-portable numbers, it's just not reasonable to demand these things in the name of "consumer rights." If you really want them, that implies that you'd pay more for them than you would for a system that you're locked into. And if you and many others would pay more for them, and it's possible to provide the services for the same price as a proprietary system, then with a little luck eventually someone will offer it. Or maybe not. Either way, it's not really AT&T's responsibility to sell you anything, and when people act like someone should do something about the "uncompetitive nature of the market" it makes me wonder who they expect to pay for it all.

This post isn't completely directed at the previous poster - flimflam didn't really say what should be done and I'm not making assumptions about what his point of view might be. I'm just responding to what I know a lot of people's points of view are.


-------------
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of my prefrontal cortex.
[ Parent ]
Read the Stuff they send you. (4.00 / 5) (#43)
by /dev/trash on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:24:43 PM EST

This whole: "I just threw it away, it didn't look important" attitude these days. When I get my bills, I read every piece of paper they send. Sure it's a waste of time, but I know what is going on.

---
Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
You're right. (4.16 / 6) (#52)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:22:20 PM EST

I was foolish to just assume that a contract is binding to both parties. I naively assumed that a contract which obligated me to maintain my account for a year also obligated the company to maintain the advertised level of service for the length of the contract.

That was stupid.

I'm not being sarcastic. I generally watch for loopholes in contracts but it just never occurred to me to watch for this kind of activity.

However, the items I threw away were not the type of thing you would expect to contain notification of service changes. I threw out the newsletter. I threw out a postcard designed to look like a promotional offer. In fact, I recently received a postcard from Nextel that says, "Information regarding your June account statement." in large letters on one side. It notified me of a change in the billing cycle. (Not billing methods, just when the bill will arrive.) The one I threw out doesn't use that attention-getting device. The minute-rounding policy is in the 4th paragraph and says nothing about the fact that I can close the account without penalty if I don't accept the new terms.

[ Parent ]

Well... (4.40 / 5) (#54)
by Danse on Mon May 20, 2002 at 12:10:26 AM EST

I was foolish to just assume that a contract is binding to both parties.

It is binding to both parties. You just didn't read what they were bound to (i.e. not much). I'm going to be signing up for a cell phone next week (well, that's the plan anyway), but I will be reading the contract very carefully, and in the store where I can ask questions. If I find something this onerous in it, I don't plan to sign.






An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
Don't expect to get a phone then... (3.33 / 3) (#57)
by ShadowNode on Mon May 20, 2002 at 12:42:52 AM EST

I've never seen a contract that didn't have such a clause.

[ Parent ]
Don't expect to buy diamond earings. (4.33 / 3) (#63)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:39:42 AM EST

Most jewlers place a quite onerous restriction in their contracts, such that the vast majority of people refuse to agree: Namely, that of price.

You have as much a right to recieve phone service on your terms as the phone companies do. The fact that no company offers sufficiently favourable contracts means either you need to change your standards or go without a phone.

I went through this recently with brokerages. Basically all brokerages' contracts are 30-50 page behemoths that are as unilateral as their lawyers can make them. Amongst other things, I had to agree to pay whatever "then-current" fees were applicable - including account termination fees.

Finally, it's worthwhile to point out that the reason this goes on is that most consumers don't find such restrictions onerous: Either they're unaware (having not read contracts etc.) or they don't care. It enough people were actually annoyed by this, you can bet companies would change their policies. If the market for even-handed contracts were large enough, it could be quite lucrative to be the only company offering such a service. As it is, it's cheaper to just piss off the minority that cares.

This is actually starting to happen, with respect to banks and privacy policies. Most banks' privacy policies have a clause such as "we share information as required or permitted by law", which is essentially equivalent to an agreement to obey the law. Some banks offer opt-opt, but not all. One bank, however, has decided to buck this trend and won't sell your information without your express permission.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Very good point. (4.33 / 3) (#76)
by tekue on Mon May 20, 2002 at 07:03:23 AM EST

Finally, it's worthwhile to point out that the reason this goes on is that most consumers don't find such restrictions onerous: Either they're unaware (having not read contracts etc.) or they don't care. It enough people were actually annoyed by this, you can bet companies would change their policies. If the market for even-handed contracts were large enough, it could be quite lucrative to be the only company offering such a service. As it is, it's cheaper to just piss off the minority that cares.
That's exactly what I'm preaching all around — it's not new laws we need, but a new attitude. If we don't buy something, it won't be sold, i.e. the best and only way to destroy a company like Microsoft (if someone is pursuing such goal, I don't), is to stop using their products.

We need to educate our children about their rights, about contracts, about law and how to use it for one's own advantage. We need to be smart, so we won't be used by someone to make money. We need to understand, that a contract is someting that multiple parties have to agree on, not just the person paying for it. We need to understand, that — for example — slamming a minimum wage on employers is not a solution to poverty, because if people are willing to work for less, they will, regardless of minimum wages.

No law is really needed if you consciently vote with your wallet.
--
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins
[ Parent ]

no (3.75 / 4) (#82)
by Ubiq on Mon May 20, 2002 at 10:45:37 AM EST

No law is really needed if you consciently vote with your wallet.

No law is really needed if everyone consciently votes with their wallets. Which is actually what both you and the parent poster agree to, so I suppose I'm preaching to the choir again.



[ Parent ]
Sortof. (4.00 / 3) (#86)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:16:41 PM EST

I wouldn't say everyone needs to vote with their wallets. Just a sufficiently large minority: Namely, one large enough to justify extra cost or risk.

One example of this happening is with hardware. Some hardware manufacturers are making their hardware open so it can operate with Linux. They are catering to the "open hardware" market.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Binding (none / 0) (#115)
by dublet on Tue May 21, 2002 at 02:56:57 AM EST

Well, as far as I read in my contract, at least with ISPs is that they reserver the right to make any changes in the contract. It's always been that way, but it would be interesting if the client was allowed to make any changes in the contract too, don't think that would pan out though :) It's something that's very common in contracts, there's just nothing you can do about it.

Badger. Badger. ←
[ Parent ]
On point article (3.40 / 5) (#45)
by premier on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:34:24 PM EST

An article on today's CNN website talks about how wireless communication companies, in this example Verizon, test and evaluate their own service. They have what they call 'road warriors', driving cars outfitted with laptops and numerous cell phones on various major service provider networks (Sprint, Verizon, Nextel, etc) who do nothing but place repeated calls to test signal, clarity, etc. It's an interesting read.

I can relate (4.57 / 14) (#47)
by qpt on Sun May 19, 2002 at 09:49:27 PM EST

Personally, I do not own a cell phone — my flying messenger monkeys have traditionally worked well enough. However, I am unfortunately all too familiar with the shady, duplicitous dealings that you describe.

A few years ago, my flying monkeys unionized and they have given me nothing but grief ever since. If it is not daily flea baths they want, it is four-day work weeks. I can do little about it, though, because one can hardly send a message via flying monkey post without the assistance of flying monkeys.

Changing the fee schedule without warning is another dastardly trick they try all too often. One month they will charge by the mile, but the next month they charge by weight. For a while, they were even charging by word count, leaving me torn between being conscientious about cost and writing stilted, telegraph-style messages. What difference does it make to the monkey how many words are in the message, though? The extra ink cannot possibly weigh an appreciable amount.

I get by, though, and I think I can offer a bit of advice to you. First, read everything that the monkeys, cell phone providers, or what have you send. I know it is full of unintelligible legalese and dirty paw prints, but read it anyway. Second, stand up for your interests. The monkeys will often back down from their unreasonable demands in the face of stiff protest. Finally, think of ways to minimize your dependence on monkeys; for instance, I am considering purchasing a cell phone.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.

It's always greener on the other side. (3.50 / 4) (#51)
by jtown@punk.net on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:12:12 PM EST

I switched exclusively to a cell phone because the local phone company is incompetent. Now I find that my new cell phone company is devious. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

[ Parent ]
cellular solicitations (3.60 / 5) (#53)
by j1mmy on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:58:32 PM EST

It went straight to voicemail. By that, I mean nobody ever really called. If they had, there would have been an entry in my Recent Calls log if they didn't have callerID blocked and "missed call" message on the display whether callerID was blocked or not.

In the U.S., it's illegal to make unsolicited phone calls where the receiver has to pay to receive the call. If you ever get a phone solicitation to your cellular, get all the info you can about the company and file a complaint with the FCC. I don't expect you pay for the connect time for listening to your voicemail, otherwise they wouldn't be leaving messages there.

Unsolicited is one thing (3.50 / 2) (#88)
by jtown@punk.net on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:20:12 PM EST

But I have an existing business relationship with Nextel. They can contact their existing customers pretty much any way they want as long as the customer doesn't object. The vast majority won't bother to explicitly instruct Nextel not to contact them. Therefore, Nextel has almost complete coverage of their entire customer base if they decide to squirt these things out. They can sell advertising from other companies by sending the message themselves. They can always make voicemail calls free to avoid the legal problems with making customers pay to receive ads.

"Hi. This is Scott from Nextel. I'd like to tell you about a very special offer from our friends at MegaCorp..."

I would have had Nextel put me on their Do Not Call list already but I'm curious to see if they actually start doing this. It'd be a shame because cell phones have been a sanctuary from telemarketing calls.

[ Parent ]

still on shaky ground (3.00 / 2) (#92)
by j1mmy on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:12:52 PM EST

I think the law still applies to the provider of the cellular service. If it didn't, Nextel would be bombarding you with telemarketers, wasting your pre-paid minutes, and driving your bill higher every month.


[ Parent ]
But. (4.50 / 2) (#91)
by Sc00tz on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:05:38 PM EST

He already has a business relationship, so the company is exempt from that. Plus, I know with Sprint PCS, and Verizon, voicemail calls don't eat up your minutes.
-- http://scootz.net/~travis
[ Parent ]
Get Linx Connect (follow-me service) (3.40 / 5) (#62)
by GoingWare on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:57:44 AM EST

I have a follow me service called Linx Connect. I got it because I'm a consultant, and at the time I signed up for the service I was about to move out of the country for a while. I didn't expect my Silicon Valley clients would keep paying my California consulting rates if they had to telephone me at a Newfoundland number.

Linx Connect lets you have a local number in any area code you like, and it will forward the calls to up to three numbers, including your cell phone (trying each number in sequence). It has voice mail. It has a store and forward fax service, so my fax number is the same as my voice number. By default it uses call screening (so callers have to record their names before you're paged) but you can disable that so it just rings you up direct. If you're traveling and won't be at a number it can call you at, it has an "away" option that informs the callers of that, and allows them to leave voice mail.

You can change any of the options like the numbers it searches for you at at any time.

There are competing services, but every other one I've heard of was a rip-off. For example, one service a friend looked into had a substantial charge each time you changed the forwarding number. I could update follow-me number 100 times a day with linx connect and there would be no charge.

You can check your voice mail via voice-over-IP in a web browser (so you don't pay long distance), or there's a toll-free number, for which you are charged but you can check your voice mail from pay phones or other people's houses without them being charged.

You can download your faxes as tiff files from a web browser, handy for eliminating the junk faxes (or if you don't have a fax machine at all).

With the toll-free number, you can use it as a calling card to place long distance calls at pretty decent rates.

If the follow-me calls are forwarded to you long-distance, within the u.s. the long distance charge is 8 cents a minute.

It works internationally, although the toll-free number doesn't act toll free in any other countries but Canada. You can forward calls internationally for reasonably rates, for example a friend of mine has a 408 (silicon valley) linx connect number that forwards to Mexico.

The basic charge for this is about $20 a month. In a typical month I pay $40. When I was in Canada and was using it heavily to both call to the U.S. and receive calls from the U.S., I was paying about $300.

The best part for you is, you can keep your linx connect number the same and switch cell phone services whenever you want. I can't answer the problem of losing investments in cell phone hardware, but at least you won't have to get everyone to remember your new phone number when some cell provider pisses you off.

My phone and fax and toll-free numbers on my business card are my linx connect numbers, that's how happy I've been with them.


I am the K5 user now known as MichaelCrawford. I am not my corporation.


Don't bother with contracts. (2.00 / 4) (#65)
by lazerus on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:55:25 AM EST

Buy air-time instead. It's cheaper and there are no catches. You have to buy your own phone (which makes it initially more expensive than having a contract), but overall, it's a lot better. Of course, it depends how often you call out. For incoming, air-time is the best, since you can get a year's worth of incoming air-time relatively cheaply. But if you make a lot of calls, a contract might be better, (but not that much better, since if you go over certain limits, depending on the contract, you'll get billed anyway).

Re: Don't bother with contracts (3.50 / 2) (#90)
by doctordank on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:39:02 PM EST

Buy air-time instead. It's cheaper and there are no catches
I did just that when I went off to college on the Sprint PCS prepaid plan.

Buying minutes in blocks of 150 or so worked out to about .75/min. While my friends were getting free nights and weekends, I was still shelling out that much. Furthermore, the minutes would expire after 60 days. Not much fun for someone who uses the phone rarely, or just for emergencies. These days, I get 300 daytime/ 3500 night and weekend for what I paid for the prepaid plan.

[ Parent ]
Outgoing vs Incoming (3.50 / 2) (#94)
by lazerus on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:29:26 PM EST

Must be different there. Over here, you buy for R1 per minute outgoing (US 10c). For Incoming you pay a lot less, in fact, on my phone my incoming airtime only expires in late 2003. Paid US $12 (for a year of incoming with no outgoing). for that. Yes, you have to recharge often if you make a lot of calls, but I don't. A 100 minute card lasts me a month, simply because my calls are short and I don't make a lot of them. (I use land-lines or email most of the time...) I receive more, though, and that's why air-time is preferable for me.

[ Parent ]
Swedish solution: GSM and regulations (3.50 / 4) (#67)
by abo on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:05:53 AM EST

Here's the swedish solution:
  • Use GSM. Unless your phone is locked to a certain provider, you can reuse it for your new account. If it's locked it can usually be unlocked for a fee or after a certain date. Or by someone with the right equipment. ;-)
  • Regulate. When you change GSM operator, the old one and the new one are required to cooperate to have you old telephone number work with your new account.

-- Köp BRUX!
ive been thinking about this recently (2.00 / 5) (#71)
by j0s)( on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:16:30 AM EST

lately, ive been looking a lot into cell phone providers and pricing plans. a lot of my friends are starting to get cell phones and dont know what their getting into, so they rely on me to look into it for them and make a good decision for them.

i originally got with sprint pcs almost 3 years ago when i went off to college. it had the best price and it was month-to-month so i wasnt locked into anything. i hate verizons 2 year commitment and that other companies are starting to do the 2 year thing also. what i enjoy about sprint is that when i finally did sign a contract, it was only a year long one and since i signed it 1.5 years into using their service, i figured i could live with it for another year. they still offer month-to-month, but theres a 10 dollar monthly fee for it, but if you really need month-to-month, its worth it. also, their home calling area is wherever you are at when you make the call. i like that a lot for traveling. but, i learned the month when i was out of town and using my sprint service on a sprint "affiliates" network. i then switched to a national plan. i wont even look at a plan if it isnt national. and those plans are way to expensive with att, cingular, and verizon. i want national, not the states nearest me. and the minutes to cost ratio is totally not right, way lopsided.

i also decided to pony up the money up front. almost everyone i know thinks they should pick how much they want to spend and curb their usage to that amount. and in a couple months, they learn real quick. my moms last bill was 300 becuase she has local calling and went to northern cali and called home to her husband constantly. my other friend at work racked up 350 because she has free nites and weekends so she (obviously i guess) forgets that she has to keep day usage down. she also went out to vegas where she appearantly isnt covered so roam away she did. hard way to learn that lesson. ive watched all my other friends slowly go over and over then switch to something more expensive. i say screw that. pick a national plan and pick how many minutes you want. if you cant afford it, then use your cell phone for conveinance, not because its your phone. i do use my cell phone as my primary phone and the house line purely for dial up. if the phone does ring, i dont bother picking it up, i dont give the number to anyone, so i know its not for me.

if your cell phone is for play, then realize that and use it as such, if your like me, and use your cell phone causes its your only contact to the world, realize this, and spend the money so that you wont get surprised. and also, dont get all bitchy about your cell phone dropping calls, people think they have to be perfect, and i think i have more of a right to demand this than the average consumer becasue my cell is my ONLY phone i can use. and i do get upset when it drops and fades out, its very annoying, but i realize radio frequencies arent perfect, and i have the conveinance of answering my phone, walking outside and driving to work or to the person on the other end and never having to leave the conversation. im thankful for what i have and cant wait for the service to become better, then it will really be worth it. and hopefully these 1xRTT networks and sprints thats rolling out this summer will be the shit. and with that im preparing to put down anohter 200-300 dollars for a new top of the line phone to take advantage of the networks, that sucks, but all of us realize thats theres a price penalty for being technologically advances or with the times.

and the advert thing, i find that when im not online and cant receive a call or if that im out and about, and i have friends who are usually home or on network connections, i will sign on and leave AIM running on my phone. then if someone needs to gimme a quick note, they can without using their cell minutes or calling long distance. and i have become extremely fast at keypad typing, not like the cingular or att commercials, but close ;). however, i have been hit with so many of those AIM sex spams recently, that ive been getting them on my phone as well. and thats shitty, but i pay what i do to have all the bells and whistles and all the minutes i need upfront, so IM away, talk away, sure borrow my phone, i realized the possibilities when i put my money down and im very happy with what i have, even when it does act typically cellular and piss me off

oh, and BTW, i am in no way affilated/sponsored/employed by sprint pcs, they have just made me a very happy customer. from customer service that will discuss things with you, to 411 that gets me any info i could ever ask for and with a smile, to treating me like a VIP for spending the money i am, they have done a good job for me.


-- j0sh -- of course im over-dramatizing my statements, but thats how its done here, sensationalism, otherwise you wouldnt read it.


Learn to write (3.00 / 2) (#79)
by duffbeer703 on Mon May 20, 2002 at 10:15:40 AM EST

I hate to sound like a prick english teacher, but your comment is just about impossible to read.

As the English language has evolved, certain features like capitalization, punctuation and a notion of what is and isn't a complete sentence have emerged.

Please check these new features of written language out.

[ Parent ]

Cell phones in Norway (2.75 / 4) (#72)
by ahjulsta on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:20:42 AM EST

Reading the article and the comments I can't stop thinking how different cell phone use is in Norway compared to across the Atlantic. A brief report from Norway: Approximately 4 out of 5 have their own cell phone. In the 14->24 age segment the ratio is probably larger. A new cell phone with a 18 month contract to a provider costs EUR 13 (USD 12). Subscription then costs app. EUR 15. Cost pr minute to cell-phone from the same network or to a "normal" phone costs EUR 0.11, to a different network might cost EUR 0.30. Incoming calls are free. You may change provider, and keep your old phone number. Nice. But, the big thing in Norway is the Short Message Service (SMS). Traffic and entertainment on SMS amounted to 200 million euros (USD 182mill). This is a country with a population of 4 point something inhabitants. SMS is ubiquitous. Among youth, it is quite common to spend more money on SMS than on regular air-time, with a cost of EUR 0.10 pr message. When the SMS equivalent in the US becomes viable (I understand it doesn't yet work across providers.), and kids start using it.... If anybody wonders whether cell phones are hazardous to your health... Don't worry, we'll soon find out for sure. :-/

asymmetric contracts (3.50 / 6) (#81)
by rfrost on Mon May 20, 2002 at 10:40:52 AM EST

I'm new to this, so forgive me if this is a bit off-topic... The long-standing assumption in contract law is that both parties have equal power and freedom in the contracting process--the entire edifice of Anglo-American civil law is built on this myth. (Yeah, as if employer and worker, cable monopoly and subscriber, landlord and tenant are equals!). This discursive twist allows the legal system to ignore differences in social and economic power while claiming to provide equal justice to all. Think of all the contracts we end up signing (or clicking, or just accepting as a part of a purchase) in our daily lives--how equal are we to the other parties? For the most part there isn't much we can do to remedy this imbalance, tho' we're told that we can always move to the competition. Yeah, right. The worst areas on this are in telecomm/broadband and airline transport. In contrast, thanks to a much more politicized atmosphere, we have better protections in mortgages/loans and (to a far lesser extent) insurance and health care. Why? I think one is historical--we have long literary traditions that address the perils of loan sharks and pay-or-die health care, but little about ICT service providers or airlines. Also historically, when many of the more protected contract arenas emerged we had a stronger sense of civic space and public purpose, so politicians felt compelled to protect consumers, workers, and tenants. Since the onset of Reaganism and the ideology that business is the source of all good, the powerful have been assumed to be working in the public's best interest, so protections against inherently asymmetric contracts have been rare. Of course, the fact that HMOs, telecomms, etc routinely purchase the offices our "democratic representatives" occupy has significant bearing on our purported rights as consumers, workers, etc. The zone of asymmetry that most annoys and intrigues me is not telecomm, but air travel, where consumer protection in the "contract" (read the 5-point type on the back of your non-e-ticket) is next to nil. Show up late for a flight, they charge you; if they are late, you eat the expense of the missed meetings, etc. Check you bag because they don't want too many in the cabin, they lose it, and they pay you $300 for the loss (no, I'm not missing a zero!). And the lies! Failure by management to task their employees gets passed off as a storm over KC, hour-long waits at baggage claims (and you really want to check that bag??) are blamed on the public airport authority, not on the fact that the airlines haven't managed to get the baggage-handling expenses down enough eitherby hiring illegals or busting unions. Perhaps part of the problem is also in a tacit assumption that ICTs, air travel,and broadband are somehow "luxury" goods which thus do not warrant the protections we get in banking or health care. Right. Just try functioning in the white-collar world without a phone, air transportation, etc...

interesting in doing anything about it? (3.50 / 2) (#105)
by twjordan on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:14:10 PM EST

I'd really like to get a consumer movement going where people attempt to assert their rights to negotiate contracts. Perhaps just one clause "If I call you and I'm on hold for more than 10 minutes, you pay me 1 dollar a minute thereafter". Try getting every business you sign a contract witht o agree to that. You'll be rejected every time. Now what if people targeted one business with the same clause. You might represent enough of a threat to them that they'd be forced to negotiate. That's a foot in the door.

I've got another great consumer rights project in the works too.

If you'd like to work with me on this, shoot me an email. twjordan at yikes dot com.

[ Parent ]

You nailed it. (4.50 / 2) (#108)
by acceleriter on Mon May 20, 2002 at 06:45:52 PM EST

There can be no actual agreement, morally, when there is an asymmetry of power. The relationships you describe, employer/employee, landlord/tenant, and utility/subscriber illustrate this perfectly. About the only contract I can think of that doesn't have this asymmetry of power inherently is marriage. And men would probably dispute that point :).

[ Parent ]
Paragraphs please. (none / 0) (#111)
by vectro on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:30:14 PM EST

Then maybe I'll consider reading what you have to say.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Communications (3.00 / 4) (#84)
by aphrael on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:08:16 AM EST

Their 30 day notice gets tucked into your snail-mail bill

It's been brought to my attention that Nextel sent out a postcard for their last change. I found it in the trash.

Sounds to me like the company was *trying* to communicate with you and you just weren't paying attention. How is that their fault?

I received another "special offer" from Nextel. It went straight to voicemail

I suspect most people would find that less annoying then actually recieving the phone call real-time. And, if it's actually an important announcement, it's the right thing to do; record the announcement once and then send it out --- doing it via a phone bank will take *forever*, and there's always the risk that you might miss someone, and that maybe the person making the call forgot an important point on this particular call, etc.

They were trying to disguise the big changes. (2.66 / 3) (#89)
by jtown@punk.net on Mon May 20, 2002 at 01:28:38 PM EST

Funny how the postcard with the unimportant change was very clearly marked as an item that contained information about my account while the one with the important stuff lacked that label. If you think that Nextel doesn't put a lot of thought into the presentation of their messages, you're not giving them much credit. And the voicemail was far from important. "Buy the new i30sx for $149.99 and get 2 more free. Add a vehicle power charger for just a dollar. Some fees and restrictions may apply." Sounds like an ad to me.

[ Parent ]
US Cellular does the same thing... (3.20 / 5) (#85)
by nstenz on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:16:12 AM EST

...but in a different way.

Instead of changing contract terms, they generally just create a new, 'better' contract and phase out the old one. I was on a 'Digital Pak 300' plan with 300 minutes for $40, $0.25 roaming, and some reasonable rate for on/off peak minutes over 300.

I went to switch my cell phone over to my name since it had previously been in my father's. They told me my contract had expired, which was a wonderful thing, because now I could get a new one! What a lovely idea that was. I figured I'd take a look, so I asked them what they had.

I could get a new plan with something like 400 minutes for only $35, I believe. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Plus, the calling area is larger than mine and covers more of where I travel. That's nice too. However, once I go over those 400 minutes, it'll cost me a lot more than it used to, and I average 450-550 minutes per month. I'm traveling more now, so that number is going to climb. Besides that, this new contract charges $0.65/minute on roam- that's just insane to me. For the amount of time that I'm out of my area, that can get very expensive.

Luckily, the nice young lady helping me out got them to let me stay on my original plan that no longer existed in their system. She had a bit of a hard time making that one work- US Cellular creates a new account number with no apparent relation to the old one when a service goes through a change of authority or whatever they call it.

Anyhow- I'm screwed. Regional/national plans are too expensive for the number of minutes I use, and roaming rates suck. I just spent the last 3 weeks on the road, so my phone bill may push me toward one of the regional plans. However, if I can't get enough minutes on those plans, I have no choice but to stick with what I have now.

So let me get this straight (2.33 / 6) (#93)
by trhurler on Mon May 20, 2002 at 02:27:25 PM EST

You decided that you wanted a phone. You either did or did not read the terms of service. You accepted them, in any case. The company obeyed the terms they had laid out. You're now upset because you think the terms weren't acceptable.

Why did you accept them, again?

Companies do this sort of thing because nobody ever bitches until it is too late. Believe me you, if one person complains, that's nothing, but if people in general say "look, this is horseshit," then they will listen because they have to listen in order to make money.

That said, if you have a problem, it is probably because you have a shitty phone company. Nextel is like Ameritech/Cingular/whatever: they're great for companies(sometimes), and their service to individuals sucks balls.

In closing, I would like to say this: the reason consumers get screwed is largely that the portion of them who complain do so in thoroughly unproductive ways. If you let yourself get fucked and respond by posting on kuro5hin and doing nothing else(note the nothing else part, which is apparently true, given your story's ending,) then you are your own problem.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

What a brilliant reply. (3.00 / 1) (#109)
by jtown@punk.net on Mon May 20, 2002 at 07:27:42 PM EST

Oh, wait. I got that wrong. What a lame reply. If you'd read the other responses, and my replies, you'd know that I am currently looking into alternatives. I've looked at my calling patterns and determined that I can get my costs down to $15-20 per month if I switch to Cingulair's prepaid service. Minutes are good for 90 days if you buy $20 or more at a time so if I make my refills in $40 increments, I should always have plenty of time and rarely waste any unused minutes. Regular plans run $20-30/month. While they may provide more airtime for the money, I won't use it and it's pretty clear that the contracts do nothing for the consumer.

And why on earth should I expect a company to alter the contract in this manner? I've never experienced this kind of devious behavior from a cellular carrier. My first cellular carrier made changes to the service but the changes added value to the service. My home area was increased. The rate for minutes outside my included airtime went down. The second company bumped the start of their evening hours back for new customers but grandfathered the existing accounts. My peak minutes were doubled for some reason. I don't remember what the reason was but it didn't matter. The change increased the value of my service.

Are you saying everyone should just automatically lube up every time they let their guard down? Perhaps my K5 post was only part of the process. As you said yourself, a single person complaining does nothing. Many people complaining can make a difference. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people have read this article. While very few will post any comments, most will probably think twice before signing up with Nextel.

[ Parent ]

Hehe (none / 0) (#110)
by trhurler on Mon May 20, 2002 at 08:22:17 PM EST

I don't know a single solitary satisfied Cingular customer. Maybe your problem is that you're going for absolute minimal cost, and companies that claim to provide it do so by screwing you over while you're not looking... I have Sprint, and with one exception, I've yet to ever have any problems with them.

I would not be too surprised if prepay customers are treated more shabbily than customers who have monthly billing. If I ran a business, I'd certainly treat the monthly billing people with more respect, seeing as they're a reliable, predictable revenue source(ie, are more of a benefit to have as customers than the others.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Of course I'm going for cost. (none / 0) (#121)
by jtown@punk.net on Tue May 21, 2002 at 12:29:47 PM EST

There is currently no advantage to the more expensive "contract" plans. What's the point of committing to a company for a year if they aren't willing to make the same commitment to you? Cingulair has the best TTL to cost ratio of any of the prepaid services I've seen. TTL being Time To Live or the life of the minutes you buy. Some carriers have plans where the minutes expire in 30 days. Some 45. Some 60. Cingulair is 90 days of you put in $20 at a time. That's the most generous TTL of the national carriers. TracFone has a couple of 365 day options but the per-minute fees are pretty darn high if you go that way. 250 minutes for $95 and that's a "special offer". It's normally $95 for 100 minutes that last 365 days.

All in all, Cingulair offers the best value in prepaid phones. There's no way I'm going to sign another contract that has the same backdoor as Nextel and it's not likely that I'll be able to find one without it. (And, no, I haven't looked at the contract on their prepaid service yet. I wouldn't be surprised if it also has a backdoor.)

[ Parent ]

You miss my point (none / 0) (#124)
by trhurler on Tue May 21, 2002 at 01:35:39 PM EST

If they're cheap up front, you're paying somewhere. Ads, screwy service agreements, etc. I pay a bit more - true. However, in general my phone is as good as a landline for my purposes(and I use it instead of having one, in fact.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
You get what you deserve with this... (2.25 / 8) (#97)
by tthomas48 on Mon May 20, 2002 at 03:52:48 PM EST

You're the one buying into a per minute system. Frankly I think that if you don't like it, you could just reintegrate yourself with society. Cell phone users are the blight of the 21st century. They can't get enough, they're always talking, always buying. They're polluting our national parks, favorite restraunts, and movie theaters with their constant noise. Plug back in the cord and get on with your life. Otherwise you deserve to be ripped off. If you don't work out of your car, you don't need a cell phone. End of story.

Cellphones (4.20 / 5) (#104)
by catseye on Mon May 20, 2002 at 04:51:48 PM EST

RE: "If you don't work out of your car, you don't need a cell phone. End of story."

What kind of asinine statement is that?

I use my cellphone for the following things:

1. As a way my child's babysitter/day care center can contact me in an emergency regardless of where I am.
2. So that I can call my auto service club if my car breaks down on the highway.
3. So I can call police/fire/ambulance/etc. in the case of an emergency when I'm not near a land line.
4. So I can respond quickly when work beeps me.
5. At the grocery store/wal-mart/target/etc., I can call whoever's at home and say, "Do we need <whatever>?" if I can't remember, or I'll get a call while at the store to remind me to pick up something.
6. My calling plan has free long distance. I use it to call my mother, who lives out of state.

Complain about rude behaviour all you want, but don't be foolish enough to see the usefulness of the technology.

----------
How can we fight Islamic Fundamentalism abroad if we do not fight Christian Fundamentalism at home?
[ Parent ]

And remember.. (1.00 / 1) (#116)
by Jevesus on Tue May 21, 2002 at 06:21:03 AM EST

these are forreign concepts to the party to which you replied. This you had to explain.

I'm not sure if that's terrifying or really funny.

- Jevesus
[ Parent ]

Re: yourt comments (none / 0) (#132)
by tthomas48 on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:13:44 AM EST

Normally I wouldn't do this, so late in the game, but I had to point out: 1. Cell-phones are new technology, so OBVIOUSLY there are other ways of doing the things you have listed. >>1. As a way my child's babysitter/day care >>center can contact me in an emergency regardless >>of where I am. We all can be a bit excitable about the safety of our children for the 10 minutes they are out of our sight, but remember you could always just call the day care center every time you change location, giving them the number you are at. You're calling them every ten minutes anyway, aren't you? See the movie Bullit, if you'd like to see how this was done pre-cellphones. >>2. So that I can call my auto service club if my >>car breaks down on the highway. I agree that this is the one place this makes a little more sense, but of course then you take into account that because of higher cell-phone use, pay phones are to be found in fewer and fewer locations. So what happens if your cell-phone battery dies? And just for those of you who like to argue: Let's say that you have that cigarette-lighter adapter for your cell-phone, but the reason you're on the side of the road is that your battery died? So really the case is not that you're more safe because you have a cell phone, it's that you're making everyone else less-safe. It's like the people who think they're safer because they have an SUV. They're not really safer, just more likely to kill another person in an accident. >>3. So I can call police/fire/ambulance/etc. in >>the case of an emergency when I'm not near a >>land line. See above. >>4. So I can respond quickly when work beeps me. Hey, you know, if that's a good thing... >>5. At the grocery store/wal-mart/target/etc., I >>can call whoever's at home and say, "Do we need >><whatever>?" if I can't remember, or I'll get a >>call while at the store to remind me to pick up >>something. Yeah, these are the sort of situations where I'd personally like an open-season on cell-phone users. Why the *#@@# can't you write a list like the rest of us? Is your marriage on such a razor-thin edge that you have to talk to your wife the whole way through the store? And let's bring up the last point: Why the @#$#$ doesn't your wife come to the store if you have to be talked through the entire experience? All you do when you walk through a store talking on a cell-phone is demonstrate that you are a completly incompetant imbicele with the memory of a mouse who has undergone repeated experiments to its central nervous system. >>6. My calling plan has free long distance. I use >>it to call my mother, who lives out of state. Isn't that special. Is this demonstrating the usefulness of cellphones or the fact that long distance plans suck ass? >>Complain about rude behaviour all you want, but >>don't be foolish enough to see the usefulness of >>the technology. You still haven't given me a compelling reason for the technology. Aside from the "car breaking down" reason, and frankly I still would prefer that the phone company keep the land lines attached. How's that roaming in ass-crack New Mexico?

[ Parent ]
Just Like Those Negroes (1.00 / 4) (#114)
by Waldo on Mon May 20, 2002 at 11:45:53 PM EST

Cell phone users are the blight of the 21st century. They can't get enough, they're always talking, always buying. They're polluting our national parks, favorite restraunts, and movie theaters with their constant noise.

Sure, tthomas48, just like those negroes, huh? Oh, and those dirty Jews, always stealing our money. And the Catholics! Let's not forget them!

[ Parent ]
I buy good service, not low costs (2.00 / 2) (#117)
by Jevesus on Tue May 21, 2002 at 06:25:19 AM EST

Now, I'm not even in America myself, but still. From the plethora of mobile service providers I chose the one with the best service, and the best options.

Cost comes second, at best. Thereby I get what I pay for. Good service. Try that for a change.

- Jevesus

That's what I did! (3.00 / 1) (#122)
by jtown@punk.net on Tue May 21, 2002 at 12:33:34 PM EST

Nextel's plans cost nearly twice as much as comperable plans from other carriers. They had all kinds of neat perks that made this extra cost worthwhile.

BUT NEXTEL IS REMOVING THOSE PERKS WHILE CUSTOMERS ARE STILL IN THEIR ONE AND TWO YEAR CONTRACTS!!!

So what's the point of paying more money for a service with better features when the company providing the service can (and apparently will) stop providing those services whenever they feel like it?

[ Parent ]

That's why I like GSM.... (none / 0) (#123)
by MKalus on Tue May 21, 2002 at 01:04:59 PM EST

... you don't like your Provider anymore? Great, swap the SIM card (okay, maybe I have to crack the phone to work with the new SIM card).

Problem solved.

My Twist (5.00 / 1) (#128)
by clearcache on Wed May 22, 2002 at 09:52:09 AM EST

No - I don't really have sympathy for people who didn't read the terms of their contract, either, when it is something as concrete as "The carrier may change the terms of service without notice during the term of this contract."

My real issue, however, is when cell phone companies fail to provide the service that they are agreeing to and fall back on the more malleable language of their contract as a defense. For example, my former cell phone provider made an error in their system when signing me up for a new contract (at my request). As a result of their error, I could not use my phone for over a week, and would spend about an hour a day every day on the phone with customer "service" representatives. The last time I called, I explained the problem and said that I didn't want it fixed, just cancelled. The service rep tried to talk me out of it saying that he was sure he could solve my problems. I didn't waver and he told me that I would be charged a $400 cancellation fee for ending my contract early. I went ballistic. He calmly explained that the $400 cancellation fee was explained clearly in my service contract. I countered that I had never received the service in the first place, so the contract was invalid. He told me there was nothing he could do - that if I cancelled my contract, I would receive a bill for early termination. I eventually got it straightened out by getting transferred to supervisors. A tremendous waste of time.

One of the things that I have found through dealing with them, my landline provider, cable company, health insurance company, car insurance company, gas company, ISP...pretty much any company that has tried to screw me at one point in the last 6 months...customer service depends largely on the quality of the rep you get on the phone, not necessarily the company, its policies, or your contract with the company.

Press "1" for gouging (none / 0) (#130)
by mediaguy on Sun May 26, 2002 at 11:16:15 PM EST

start_rant>

Interesting topic but dig a bit deeper...

For your local provider, a "plain old telephone line" (POTS) is substantially more expensive than a cell line. Think about that for a moment. You're being gouged as it is. Your buddies at Ameritech or Nextel don't have to pay to string the wire. It's pathetic what people pay in the US for cell phones. The denial is amazing. It's worse than your 70-year-old Aunt Agnes  denying that she swims in a vat of henna in an attempt to hide the grey.

You're willingly paying through the wazoo - I know, a technical term - for the honor of being able to talk on the phone while you're strolling down the isles in your local Safeway.  Even though you may be busy, do others really want to talk with you while you eye a zucchini?

</rant_off>


Telecoms co-own the legal system (none / 0) (#131)
by rufo on Thu May 30, 2002 at 11:04:14 AM EST

We should not be surprised that telecom laws do not "make sense" and are immoral. A degeneration of the democratic system in the US over the last decades (especially, campaign finance and media concentration) has increasingly ensured that legislation creation and modification happens to satisfy mainly corporate needs. Also, consumer rights are defined by corporations themselves and lost any meaning as a political platform. Rufo

Shouldn't cell phone contracts be binding to both parties? | 132 comments (119 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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