Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Smarter Cell Phones Mean New Pricing Plans and Confused Consumers


Published Nov 30, 2010

A Rotary Phone is a Thing of the Past
Anne McNUlty

Soon the phone bill for a wireless phone will look like a maze of confusing numbers when wireless cell phone companies begin to use tiered pricing plans

According to a November 30th article in the Washington Post Newspaper, the days of a flat-rate monthly charge are about to end. Instead it looks like the more complicated a phone becomes, the more complicated the monthly bill will be.

Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T are all Changing Their Billing Plans

Verizon and T-Mobile are moving towards billing customers for how much data they consume rather than charging a flat rate for phone usage. AT&T's customers will soon have to decide what services they want and will then be charged accordingly rather than being offered one overall service plan.

The good news for those who already have contracts, is that the companies will have to honor their current ones. For those who are planning to upgrade, however, they should carefully review their new contracts and hope they understand them.

With the new array of services already being offered and others just being developed, contending with a wireless phone bill could get as complicated as paying taxes. Already smartphone users can access Twitter, Facebook, email, YouTube, i-Pod and many other applications. They can even make a phone call.

Soon, however, will come along new service plans such as possibly buying priority service for those who constantly use Facebook or paying more to prevent Twitter's Web site from failing during peak usage hours. Consumers could stream video feeds to their smartphones for an extra fee.

It may not be long until bundles of TV channels such as Fox and CNN can be delivered to iPads or Droids. Parents could block questionable movies or internet games on their teen's phone--for an extra charge of course.

The Washington Post quotes Peter Thonis, a spokesman for Verizon Communications, as saying,"You could be charged based on usage or by speed difference or you could do both. There are no definitive answers here."

There's also no definitive answers as of yet, from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is trying to sort out all the fee changes, but with all the rapidly changing technology, it's difficult to do.

It is considering formulating new rules that would require the phone carriers to text or to call users when they are approaching their voice and data limits.

This proposal would have greatly helped one consumer who mistakely thought that when she purchased a new cell phone, she had also increased her minutes.That unfortunately, was not the case, which she found out a month later when she finally received a phone call from a Verizon representative who told her that she owed $600 for going over her prescribed minutes.

After increasing the minutes on her current contract, which cost her another $30 a month, she'll be reading contracts more carefully. Yet it certainly would have helped if a Verizon representative had contacted her before she went over her allotted minutes.

In addition to minute usage charges, and megabytes of data usage charges, Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman, is concerned about additional 'mystery fees' that continue to pop up on customers' bills.

According to the Washington Post, Verizon Wireless recently agreed to pay $25 million as a settlement to the FCC for placing false data charges on the phone bills of 15 million subscribers. The FCC estimates that about 30 million other customers have been shocked to find sudden increases in their monthly phone bills.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it might be that smartphone users need also to be smart consumers.

References: The Washington Post--With faster cellphones come souped-up bills--November 30, 2010

Consumer Search--Cell phone Plans: Reviews---accessed November 30,2010

Verizon's Droid: 10 Apps to Get You Started--accessed November 30, 2010

Copyright Anne McNulty. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.



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