Freedom to Switch

FCC hopes new cell phonerules benefit customers

different strategies on how they pass on these charges. Some of these carriers believe this is a competitive advantage to them. They think they’re going to win more customers as a result of LNP, so their strategy is not to charge you because this is a huge win. Other carriers who are more afraid of losing customers are very defensive about it,” observes Muleta.

Iron clad contracts and unregulated fees aside, the FCC’s goal is to put the ball in the consumer’s court. “It really is to permit the carriers to fight for your business. If they feel like you’re going to walk away with this investment and move over to another carrier, then they’re going to do more to make sure your happy with their service,” says Muleta. The idea is, without the tedious task of notifying family, friends, and business contacts of a phone number change, there will be greater competition incited among those in the industry for consumer patronage.

And it might be working. “AT&T is trying to get me to stay,” Williams says. “They’ve offered me a new phone every year if I sign a two-year contract with them.” However, some are more skeptical.

“The FCC is enchanted with this theory, but it doesn’t always [transfer] well into reality,” says Michael Shames, executive director for Utility Consumers’ Action Network, a consumer advocacy group based in San Diego. “Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a good thing. However, the carriers are coming up with strategies to counter this plan. They are increasing the amount of early termination penalties when consumers sign contracts and getting customers to commit to longer term deals … and not informing them about all of their options,” says Shames. He points to Cingular Wireless “pulling advertising featuring one-year contracts” as an example. “Now you have to ask the carriers about one-year contracts or they’ll immediately try to give you a two-year.” Shames also cites what he deems as irony between the FCC’s attempt to promote competition in the industry as rumors loom of carriers consolidating because the marketplace is getting too competitive. Only time will tell who will be the true winner.

Additional information about local number portability is available on the FCC Website at www.fcc.gov, or you can register a complaint at 888-CALL-FCC. Log on to blackenterprise.com/cellphone for a look at some of the top wireless plans being offered.

What you need to knowbefore you switch
Compare rates and coverage. To locate the best rates and coverage, wireless carrier brochures, Websites, promotions, and advertising are all a good place to start.

Review your current contract. If you exit before your contract expires, you may be obligated to pay early termination fees anywhere from $150 to $450. The good news is carriers must transfer your number even if there is an outstanding fee or balance.

Read carefully before you sign. It seems most people sign on the dotted line without reading the contract. There is a voluntary consumer code, issued by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (www.wow-com.com/consumer/issues), to

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