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September 2, 2005 11:28 AM

Broken: A Monthly Mystery - New York Times

Speaking of cell phone problems: A Monthly Mystery: Fee-Plagued Phone Users May Be Mad, but Rebellion Seems Futile, courtesy the New York Times.

The carriers might promote flat-rate phone plans for, say, $49.99 a month, but once the many indecipherable fees are larded into a bill, a customer may actually pay $10, $20 or more a month.
"The proliferation of these charges is happening because the carriers are playing a shell game, plain and simple," said Thomas Allibone, an independent auditor and a former member of the consumer advisory committee at the Federal Communications Commission. "They'd rather weather a customer's complaint because they are making $20 or more in surcharges."

For her part, a Verizon spokersperson said that "all customers and potential customers to talk to our reps to understand our plans and charges."

Here's an idea - why not be more upfront with customers, so they don't have to call?


mmmmmmm, money. heh i like that wording: "larded into a bill". mmmmmm, lard.

Posted by: gmangw at September 2, 2005 11:37 AM

The whole cell industry is a scam. Why can't I buy ANY phone and use it with ANY service? I can with a landline... I can buy a Panasonic phone, plug it into a Verizon plug, and lo-and-behold, everything works. Even Caller ID. If I want internet on my phone, why do I *have* to get Cingular internet just because I have Cingular calling service? Why can't I get Verizon internet service?

More to the point, why does the government let all this happen? Why do they allow local cable monopolies? Why do they let phone companies get away without being compatible with ANYBODY but themselves?

Posted by: James Schend at September 2, 2005 11:54 AM

The cell phone companies aren't alone -- landline and cable companies, airlines, and hotel chains have all found ways to advertise one price and charge another through the addition of various fees and surcharges. And since consumers keep paying, it shows no sign of stopping. Expect to be charged admission to Wal-Mart and McDonald's in the near future.

Posted by: E.T. at September 2, 2005 12:26 PM

They do charge addmision to Wallmart, It's called Sam's Club. And my cell bill isn't that bad. Granted, I am a college student that does not have: web browser, text messaging, camera, fancy shmancy ring tones, or games.

Posted by: Bigman at September 2, 2005 01:51 PM

I think they are simply responding to government regulation. Legally, they must charge for taxes, USF, 911, etc, but they have no corresponding legal obligation to advertise these fees as part of the price. The FCC guy blaming the carriers is being highly disingenuous. It's the government policy that needs to be fixed, either by removing the taxes (which I would oppose), or requiring carriers to quote them in their prices (which they would oppose, of course).

Posted by: Decklin Foster at September 2, 2005 02:39 PM

"...$49.99 a month, but once the many indecipherable fees are larded into a bill, a customer may actually pay $10, $20 or more..."

Gee, I'd be glad to pay ten or twenty bucks for a fifty-dollar plan!

I think you mean '$20 more' not '$20 or more'.

Posted by: Bob at September 2, 2005 03:33 PM

Dont blame the cell company. The government is taking advantage of how popular cellular phones are and adding a whole lot of taxes. At least you can call 911 if you needed to.

"The whole cell industry is a scam. Why can't I buy ANY phone and use it with ANY service?"

You sorta can. On GSM (Tmobile, Cingular) you can get an unlocked phone, pop in your SIM card and it works. The companies lock the phones that they sell for their customers so you have to buy it from them, fooling the public making you think you cant use other phones on their service.

Posted by: Jon at September 2, 2005 04:20 PM

No do blame the cell phone company. These fees (not the taxes) are put on by the cell phone companies. They give them fancy names like 911 reimbursement and such things but in fact the money goes directly to the cell phone companies. They are not government fees, but a way to tack on extra fees separate from their other charges. They may use these fees to build infrastructure or they just may keep the profits.

I work for an ISP we charge a rate for hosting your site. That rate is such that we can make a profit. Then from time to time we upgrade infrasturture by reinvesting our profit into improving our business to attract new customers/keep the ones we have.

It is deceptive to say the least to say hosting for $5.95 a month and then tack on a bandwidth transmission fee, 9/11 reduncy cost etc to bring up the cost to $25.95, but that's exactly what cell phone companies do.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at September 2, 2005 07:59 PM

Buy a pre-paid cell phone. That's what I use...I endure none of this crap.

Posted by: Faolan at September 2, 2005 11:38 PM

Yes, this is not broken though but intentionally designed to sodomize the hapless customer.

If I was emperor, I would have the directors of all the phone companies lined up against the wall and shot. It is that bad. I could tell my own tales but we've all heard them before. This industry is a bunch of corrupt lying bastards that will say or do anything while providing substandard service and quality. Every last employee at these phone companies are liars and criminals and should be put in prison for the rest of their natural lives.

Posted by: J. Scott at September 4, 2005 12:22 AM

I like the top and bottom links to this page- 'A Monthly Mystery- The New York Times'.

Posted by: Bob at September 4, 2005 07:19 AM

"They do charge admission to Wal-Mart, It's called Sam's Club" This comment was made by "Bigman" and I'm afraid I don't understand it at all. Many shop at Wal-Mart but much fewer shop at Sam's. You don't have to have a Sam's card to do Wall-Mart. Thought the both are one they still operate independently.

Posted by: Jim at September 4, 2005 09:42 AM

It's not just the cell companies that do this; landline companies do it too.

I switched my phone service to Cavalier Telephone, because they offered unlimited local phone service and DSL for $49.95/month. The first bill comes and it's $66.57. Of course, the company said nothing about this when they were selling me the bundle.

I did the research. Most of the extra $17 goes straight to Cavtel; very little of it are taxes or government-imposed fees.

I think, it's bait-and-switch to advertise one price and actually charge one that's far higher. The companies should be compelled to advertise the actual price.

Posted by: D.F. Manno at September 5, 2005 01:12 AM

To quote a price without including tax is illegal in many countries. I don't understand why this "innovation" has failed to take off here in the US.

Customers obviously care more about the total price, than how much goes to different taxes. Let's just save that stuff for the bill.

Anyone want to vote on it? ;-)

Posted by: interlard at September 5, 2005 03:33 PM

_@_v - how about imposing an itemised fee tax on telecom companies (and banks and other businesses) that play the fee menu game so that if a company tacks on buncha 'itemised' fees they pretty much have to hand mosta what they collected over to the government anyway, but if they just charge one price they don't get taxed as much.

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at September 5, 2005 03:48 PM

Quote from Jon

>> "The whole cell industry is a scam. Why

>> can't I buy ANY phone and use it with ANY

>> service?"


>You sorta can. On GSM (Tmobile, Cingular) you

>can get an unlocked phone, pop in your SIM

>card and it works. The companies lock the

>phones that they sell for their customers so

>you have to buy it from them, fooling the

>public making you think you cant use other

>phones on their service.

Exactly. In fact, there was a nice How 2.0 article on this in Popular Science (only fair to link to them since that's how I found thisisbroken in the first place).

I found another site with info on unlocking phones

Unlocking your phone is a great way to give the cell providers the metaphorical finger.

I hate the stupid hidden fee system too, but at least Cingular and Sprint are taking steps to prevent overage charges. I have Cingular with rollover, and I love it. Honestly though, in the past I have had months with 100's of minutes in overages, and I just asked them to change my plan retroactively, and they always did it for me. (Which is basically what Sprint now does automatically.)

Posted by: Michael at September 6, 2005 03:48 PM

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