CBS-TV Evening News (6:30 PM ET)
DAN RATHER, anchor: Millions of American cell phone users have given up regular phones, and more will follow when new rules let them switch services but keep their numbers. But many companies are secretly charging for this still non-existent service. Sandra Hughes investigated for Friday’s Consumer Alert.
Mr. MARVIN CAMPBELL (Cell Phone User): Well, I’ve got one bar.
SANDRA HUGHES reporting: Marvin Campbell says he’s stuck with an almost unusable cell phone.
Mr. CAMPBELL: Two bars, no bars. I have no bars. The phone doesn’t work in my house, OK? I go out in my yard, it doesn’t work. I go out in the middle of the street.
HUGHES: When Campbell bought his phone from Cingular Wireless, he was told the only so-called ‘dead zones’ were in the mountain areas above Los Angeles. He couldn’t get rid of his cell phone because he had already established it as his business line.
Mr. CAMPBELL: ‘Cause they lied to me the day that I bought the phone and they haven’t stopped lying since. They will lie to you to sell a phone.
HUGHES: Consumer advocates have fought hard to eliminate this problem, allowing cell phone customers to dump a company giving them bad service while still keeping their cell phone number. It’s called number portability, and November 24th it becomes law. In major urban areas, cell phone companies will be required to let customers take their number with them if they change plans.
HUGHES: The cell phone industry battled against portability, saying it would cost $1 billion to implement, and has been quietly charging consumers for future costs. One study found since January 2002, companies have been slipping mysterious new fees, many for number portability, into the bills of 101 million customers to the tune of $629 million so far. While figuring out all the
charges and fees in a cell phone bill can make your head spin, at least you can try, unless you subscribe to Nextel.
Mr. HARVEY ROSENFIELD (Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): As of October 1, it (Nextel) unilaterally announced that it would no longer provide itemized cell phone charges on the monthly bills.
HUGHES: And as Nextel goes, others may follow, meaning cell phone customers won’t be able to check for inaccurate billing without making a special request and, in some cases, paying another fee. Sandra Hughes, CBS News, Los Angeles.