2003-07-25 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Have you noticed the decline of pay phones on our streets? Pay phones once occupied almost every street corner and were dispersed along city blocks. Currently, the proliferation of cellular phones has changed the pay phone landscape. People no longer use pay phones as frequently because technology has made owning a cellular phone economically reasonable. Purchasing a cellular phone and enrolling in a calling plan seem simple, however there are some necessary considerations prior to enrolling with a cellular provider.

The first factor in deciding what cellular phone plan is right for you is determining your calling needs. Whether your use consists of local calls, using it only for emergency calls or using it for all your long distance calls is important to know. Many service providers have various price structures and plan structures depending upon how the phone will be used. Along the same vein as type of call, is the number of minutes you project you will use in a billing cycle. If you exceed your allocated minutes in your plan, the charge per minute is generally very high. Remember, most cellular service providers will charge for both outgoing and incoming phone calls. You are either charged a fee or your available minutes are diminished. Be sure that the plan in which you enroll adequately meets your usage needs.

It is also important to examine the providers calling or service area. Many plans provide for unlimited service so long as calls are within the defined service area. Outside the service area, charges can quickly accumulate. Be sure you know where you will be making the majority of your calls to avoid high calling fees. You should also learn about all fees associated with your cellular phone plan. Such fees may include roaming fees if the call is not within a service area, taxes and service fees. Some fees are un­avoid­able and can add significantly to your bill.

Finally, be careful of long-term contracts. It is easy to be wooed by enticing packages like free phones, extra minutes, unlimited call times, and other benefits. Even though the package appears to save you money, you will be locked into a contract which does not fulfill your needs. Only you know how much you will use a cellular phone. By the time you discover that the plan is not right for you, you may be locked into a long-term contract with very high cancellation fees if you choose to end the service. Some contracts include clauses for early cancellation fees of hundreds of dollars.

In light of the dramatic increase of cellular phone usage, I introduced bill number A.3789, which requires pro­viders of personal communication ser­vices to obtain a form of positive identification when a customer applies for service. This is necessary to ensure that a person is not unwittingly committed to a contract through the fraudulent actions of others. In addition to protecting the general population by requiring proof of identity, it also protects the companies because the contracts entered into will be valid since it will be with the proper person.

Cellular phones are becoming very advanced. They may include digital camera adaptors, personal data storage, Internet connections, and other functions. Finding the phone and ser­vice plan are integral to your enjoyment of the phone. Do not get enticed by the most recent technologies or big­gest service plan you need, unless it is what you need. Remember to compare service plans, carefully assess your needs, and ask questions of the sales associates.

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