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Does the U.S. need a cellphone user’s Bill of Rights?

mobilephne Does the US Need a Cellphone User’s Bill of Rights?

I recently attended a panel discussion hosted by Washington think tank, the New America Foundation. The topic was wireless phone regulation. Farhad Manjoo, a technology columnist at Slate Magazine had a wish list for the FCC on regulatory changes that could make cell phone service better for consumers.  Here’s what is on Farhad’s list:

Collect better data about the wireless network in your local area

There is scant reliable information about actual wireless coverage throughout the country. Coverage maps used by providers as marketing material do not give consumers reliable information about whether their wireless service will actually be available where they need it. The FCC should collect more and better information about actual cellular service coverage to identify dead zones, provide consumers with better information when shopping for a service provider.

Simplified wireless phone bills

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Do you understand all those charges on your cell phone bill? Do you understand what all the various tariffs and charges are? Can you easily make out how many minutes you use, how much data is used etc. etc? In short do you really know what you are paying for?  Manjoo asserts that the FCC should tell cellular phone service providers to simplfy their bills, making it easier for consumers to understand what they are paying for.

Right to unlock phone

If you use an Apple iphone, Steve Jobs sees to it that you must use AT&T, at least for now. The FCC could require manufacturers to offer service from any provider on any device. This could improve market competition in the wireless service market and unleash innovation and in the handset market, all to the benefit of mobile phone consumers.

Encourage competition in the mobile phone market

Wireline or landline phone service providers must comply with rule known as Carterfone rules that require the telephone companies to connect any external device to the wireline phone network.  This is what allows you to buy your phone from any consumer electronics retailer and plug it into your phone socket and get phone service. Manjoo and other’s argue that the same should apply to wireless phone service–any device should work on any network.

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So what do you think? Would you like to see these changes to your cell phone service? Is there something you’d like to see that is not on this list? Can you hear me now?

Written By

Melanie is the Senior Technology Policy Representative at the National Association of Realtors. That means she lobbies Congress and Federal Agencies on technology policy issues of importance to the real estate industry. In her pre-NAR life Melanie has been a practicing attorney and a software start-up executive. Like any native Californian, Melanie loves good wine and bountiful farmers markets.



  1. Lani Rosales

    April 6, 2010 at 12:45 am

    I support the above items and I would add that cell phone bills should not only be redesigned but should include clear information on which governmental agency oversees grievances. Try asking an hourly employee which regulatory committee oversees cell phone user abuses and you’ll get deer in the headlights.

    For example, we were charged taxes for Arizona and Texas for five years and continually had to ask the Arizona taxes be removed since we live in Texas and clearly not in Arizona, yet for years we had to call in over and over and be reimbursed the amount they could not make disappear (and yet it shows up from time to time). We asked to speak to supervisors on the phone, asked people in the store to look at it, blah blah blah, but when we finally asked what regulatory agency was over Sprint, the answer was refused. It should be clear on my bill, just like warnings on cigarettes, MY RIGHT should be that of recourse.

    All that said, I understand the times call the most attention to unlocking phones right now given the pace of technological advances, but in rural areas, coverage is promised but not received, leaving users with a two year contract and no service.

  2. Benn Rosales

    April 6, 2010 at 11:07 am

    This is rather two fold, if it’s not about device exclusivity (iphone, palm, etc…) and only about choosing carriers then you get better carriers, not better devices. I don’t see a BOR as incentive to inspire creativity as it is a move to drive choice.

    Soon the federal government will oversee an overhaul of telephone carriers from landline to voip similar to the move from analog to digital television- when this happens, any bor should be in place, because that’s when things are going to get buck wild.

  3. CassieS

    May 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

    I grew quite fed up with constant bill hassles, hidden charges etc and decided to vote with my wallet. When the time came to renew my cell contract I simply didn’t bother. I went with a prepaid carrier (NET10) and what a relief! No more bill issues, no more hidden charges, no more roaming charges, no contract – hence no ETF and I can switch at the drop of a hat. The carrier obviously knows this because I find they try harder, they have lower prices and yet they provide excellent coverage! If more people just voted with their money/support we wouldn’t have to rely on regulation. Just MHO.

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