Thursday, August 21, 2008

The End of the ETF!

Yes, it has happened! Consumer Cellular, a wireless re-seller that gets a positive review from us, has announced a deal with AARP with no Early Termination Fees (ETF). While some carriers are reducing ETF's over time by pro-rating your contract, this deal eliminates any such charge.

This means Consumer Cellular is taking the chance of losing money on some customers, but they have been taking that chance for several years by being one of the only non-prepaid cellular companies that doesn't require a contract. I remember signing up with Sprint back in the 90's mostly because they didn't require a contract then, and I stayed for more than 2's a good gimmick. You need to be an AARP member, but that's not expensive and anyone over age 50 qualifies.

Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network and our experience with them has been variable. But the unique services they offer is certainly worth any shortcomings we may find with them. While we applaud the move, it does make us wonder how any company with the word "Consumer" in its name can actually benefit the consumer. Let's just hope the elimination of ETF's catches on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Excellent Customer Service

As a result of the difficulties noted in previous posts, I had to deal with Verizon Wireless's customer service in resolving the problems brought up by unwanted plan changes. Charges began to accumulate when we upgraded to a new phone that included data charges by the mb, prorated minute usage and overages. The agent I contacted said she needed time to contact other departments to make everything right again. She said she would call me back as each step was completed. Yeah, right.

Indeed, she did call back. The first call was to tell me the account was returned to the original plan, and then a second call to explain that all overages and unexpected charges were credited back and were effective immediately. Yes, it was all surprising and refreshing. I don't know what I liked better...the extra attention or the account credits themselves.

Recently, Verizon Wireless received an improved rating from JD Power, and we couldn't really find a relevant way to report the subject...until now. As we have said before, excellent customer service isn't a big deal when things are going right. It stands out when things go wrong.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Changing Plans Without Your Knowledge

Recently a few carriers have either been sued or otherwise penalized for changes made to subscribers' plans without their knowledge. It actually happens often, and it happened to me again recently. We replaced one of our Verizon phones with a new all-digital model, and even after asking the store representative not to do so, the plan associated with that phone was changed. Of course that change resulted in higher monthly charges.

I watched the agent enter the order and I watched that he did not change the plan. Therefore, I must conclude that the billing computer made the change automatically. This isn't really illegal, but it isn't ethical. Fortunately, Verizon Wireless allows changes back to previous plans within 30 days, but you and I need to be aware of these changes. It makes sense to read over your monthly bill to catch these, and other changes, which are easy to overlook if your detailed billing is only available online.

Always check your account after any plan or phone change. The machines may be programmed to help "adjust" your decisions, and then there's the human error thing, too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Get in Line to Restrict the Verizon-Alltel Marriage

When AT&T and Cingular started their hook-up process, there wasn't that much opposition. Now, with Verizon Wireless and Alltel coming to the alter, the opponents are little more vocal. At issue is the amount of spectrum that will eventually be controlled by Verizon, which will be considerable, especially in light of their recent AWS (2100MHz) and 700 MHz spectrum additions. It means a large amount of the 800 MHz cellular band being totally controlled by Verizon, leaving only the less robust frequencies available.

Opposition from smaller carriers and associated trade groups has also taken on the issue of "in-market" roaming, which they claim will be necessary until these small carriers can build out networks using their own newly-gained spectrum. While Verizon claims that all roaming contracts will be honored, these carriers fear what will happen when the agreements expire over the next 4 or 5 years. We do too.

Guess what? You and I can help the process along. The FCC welcomes thoughtful public input, and if you don't think your voice will be heard, consider how few people will take the time to comment. Your opinion becomes a big percentage of the discussion. We agree with the smaller carriers. Bigger isn't always better. Yes, Verizon and Alltel can merge, but not at the expense of competitive rural coverage. No carrier should own both 800 MHz channels, even though AT&T got away with it. And the idea of Verizon controlling both CDMA and GSM roaming is worrisome, too.

If nothing else, your comments could slow the process down a bit to give everyone more time to mull it over. If Verizon wants to 'fast track' the process by making these concessions, the end result could benefit us all. Visit and make 'em think about it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cutting Off the Antenna

It has been a difficult process. After being an advocate of using a pull-out antenna, I finally started using an all-digital phone with an "internal" antenna. My last CDMA phone with its long antenna and analog circuitry is always nearby, but my experience with phones without analog and extendable antennas is surprising me. I have spent many days out at the edge of coverage this summer, and have found little reason to curse the all-digital phones.

Yes, the new phones do seem to be more sensitive, and life in the "sticks" with no bars and only the antenna icon showing on the screen seems to be survivable. With Verizon and AT&T no longer using analog, I wondered just how important it was. The answer lies in where you go, and unless you are wandering in the areas of the small carriers that still support analog, it really has become unnecessary. There are some areas of rural New Mexico and Arizona that gave us some concern, but we have noted that in many spots where service was wanting, the 'infill specialist', Commnet Wireless, has indeed added new cell sites both in GSM and CDMA.

Most users will never get near analog and will see no need to pull out an antenna, but I wanted to champion the idea of maximum service, and for me, that's what it takes. That is, until I was working out in the local recreation center, a consistent dead zone, where my digital-only phone with the internal antenna, rang...where no phone has rung before. Progress indeed!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Verizon Purchases Unicel

Verizon has officially taken over Unicel. The news isn't about what Verizon Wireless acquired, it's what they haven't acquired. As reported here previously, several Unicel areas were too hot for Verizon to handle, so they will spin off certain markets include the entire state of Vermont. The Verizon Press Release outlines which markets are affected, but gives no hint of what will happen to these "orphan" markets.

It was thought that AT&T might pick up most of these markets but that hasn't happened, and Verizon has every right to keep it out of their hands. Could these be the next markets for the 'new' Cellular One?

For those Unicel customers not being acquired by Verizon, it's business as usual, which is not a bad thing. Just hope your phone doesn't break. The good news is that Verizon will maintain all the current Unicel GSM roaming, so your Unicel phone should work everywhere it has worked before. For now, the political powers-that-be in Vermont are happy...but we see a cloud over their heads.