Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007

On September 7th, Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced Senate Bill 2033, entitled the "Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007"). If enacted, this bill would do a number of things that would impact cell phone users in the United States, including users of Windows Mobile phones.

As currently written, the bill would do the following:

  • Require that certain enumerated information relating to the terms of the contract, such as information on charges, taxes, etc., be included in any advertisement or other publication of the terms of a cell phone contract.
  • Give the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) the power to require that additional information be included in such advertisements if the FCC determines that it would "ensure that wireless consumers are fully informed of the plan or contract."
  • Require that cell phone bills contain certain information in a clearly understandable manner and not charge any fees except for those enumerated (for service, late payment, etc.).
  • Require that cell phone service providers make available on their websites a map of service coverage at the county level and update it quarterly.
  • Require cell phone service providers to provide information regarding number of dropped calls, coverage gaps, and any other information desired by the FCC to the FCC, which must in turn make the information available to the public.
  • Require that early termination fees be prorated based on the term of the terminated contract.
  • Grant consumers the right to cancel a contract for cell phone service within 30 days of entering into it.
  • Require providers to notify consumers before extending their contracts and give consumers the right to cancel the extension within 30 days.
  • Require 30 days notice to the consumer of any modifications to the terms of the contract.
  • Requires the FCC to report to Congress regarding the practices of locking cell phones in the United States and the portability of cell phones in Asia and Europe and the effects on competition and consumer behavior that each of these has. The FCC must also analyze potential methods for regulating cell phone locking and portability in the United States.

If you ask me, only three of these things are really significant:

(1) Allowing cancellation of a cell phone contract within 30 days. One of the things that keeps a lot of people from switching carriers is that they don't want to roll the dice when it comes to service quality if they are going to be contractually bound for one or two years. Allowing cancellation within 30 days would give consumers the chance to shop around and experiment without having to worry about this problem.

(2) Requiring that early termination fees be prorated. Anyone who has ever thought about terminating a cell phone contract early in the United States knows that the cost of doing so (often around $200) can be prohibitive. A prorating requirement may not be the perfect solution but it would be a substantive step in the right direction.

(3) Requiring the FCC to study phone locking and portability. This may not seem like a big deal and I concede that it certainly doesn't constitute any sort of great leap, but getting the federal government to at least study the issue of phone locking seems like a necessary first step towards if phone companies are ever going to stop locking their phones.

The bill is in the early stages of the legislative process and so it is much too early to say what will come of it. Currently, the bill is sitting in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

As an interesting side note, one of the members of this committee is Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), who once famously referred to the Internet as a "series of tubes" (you can listen to his comments here. The "tube" comments are towards the end. Or for just the "tube" comment, listen to this).

I find this also very important for me.

"Require cell phone service providers to provide information regarding number of dropped calls, coverage gaps, and any other information desired by the FCC to the FCC, which must in turn make the information available to the public"

This information being public will force carriers to minimize these issues and also allow me to determine who numbers are better than the average when deciding which carriers package to go with.

I hate 2+ year locked in contracts.
I prefer going annually or shorter since various plans keeps improving over time.

I guess I am becoming quite cynical, but what is the motivation of the committee? This seems like a consumer-oriented bill. You would think the phone companies would be able to spend enough lobby money to kill it. Given Stevens reputation for selling out to the Alaskanoil companies (as well as his breath of knowledge about the Internet), I am even more skeptical.

Bob: great point. That is an important issue and I would hope that it would have the sort of impact that you anticipate it would.

Hal: I think your cynicism is more than reasonable. Having said that, however, when one looks back on many of the bills that Congress has passed over the years, I would have been skeptical at the time that they would ever have made it. And while lobbyists are definitely a force to be reckoned with, massive public support for the bill would also be a factor to consider. Who knows what'll happen. At the very least, I'm looking forward to some great sound clips from Senator Stevens!

Syndicate content