Cell Phones

Cell phone with attachmentsAlthough cellular phones have become extremely commonplace in our daily lives, you may find it difficult to understand all the terms of your service contract.  Before you obligate yourself to pay for a particular service, be sure that a cellular provider can offer you all that you need. 

Three of the largest cellular service providers in the country (Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless and Sprint PCS) and 32 states, including Georgia, reached a settlement in July 2004 to ensure consumer rights.  The settlement requires these cell phone companies to:

  • Provide coverage maps to you that are as accurate as possible under current technology so you should be able to tell, before you purchase a service agreement, whether your desired usage areas are covered.
  • Allow you to return your phone for any reason within three days after activation without having to pay the activation or early termination fees.
  • Allow you a trial period of at least 14 days to test your phone to make sure the plan’s coverage area meets your needs.  If not, you can cancel without paying an early termination fee.
  • Make certain disclosures in advertisements, as well as through retail, Internet and telemarketing sales channels, to provide consumers with comprehensive information about the costs and limits of their wireless service.

Georgia does not have a specific law regulating the operations of cell phone providers.  However, these companies must abide by other state laws that are in place for your protection, such as the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA).  Complaints about cell phones that the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection can handle are those involving violations of the FBPA. 

O.C.G.A. Section 46-5-8 allows an active duty service member, under certain conditions, to terminate a cell phone service contract with 30 days’ notice to the provider, if he or she receives orders to a location outside the provider’s service area or outside the continental United States for one of the following reasons:

  • Permanent change of station;
  • Temporary duty or temporary change of station for longer than 60 days; or
  • Discharge from active duty.

Tips for Selecting and Using a Cell Phone Service

  • Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers who live in your area which wireless company they use and whether they are happy with it.
  • Determine your needs and try to match your expected calling patterns with the right plan.
  • Consider a more flexible prepaid plan at first, with the option of switching later to a monthly plan after evaluating your typical usage.
  • After choosing a company, decide on a phone and a compatible headset, based on your own research or advice from consumer organizations such as Consumers Union (Consumer Reports).  Be aware that, at the present time, the phone you buy from a wireless provider usually can be used only in conjunction with that company’s service.
  • Make sure you understand the contract terms.  Wireless companies often advertise what sounds like great monthly rates, but there may be restrictions and limitations.
  • Ask about the refund policy and get it in writing.
  • When you get the phone, be sure that it has coverage where you need it.
  • If you sign a written contract, keep a copy in case you have a problem in the future.
  • Ask how the company computes the length of your calls, and realize that built-in call timers may not use the same method of tracking.
  • Understand completely the cost of acquiring additional ring tones, games or other options.  Frequently this includes the cost of the download plus a recurring charge (in the form of minutes or dollars and cents) for each time used. 
  • Carefully review your monthly bill to ensure that you are being billed at the rate you agreed to and that you are not being charged for any extras you didn’t request.