The January 2008 issue of Consumer Reports contains the publication’s annual survey of cellphone service. If you want to see how your service provider stacks up against the competition you may want to get a copy. Over 47,000 readers in 20 metropolitan areas across the country were surveyed by Consumer report’s National Research Center.
The high cost of service and mandatory contract extensions were listed as the top two complaints made by survey respondents. Over 60% of those surveyed who made changes to their service plan in the past year said they were required to extend their contract. Consumer Reports claims this may be an under estimation of contract extension problems. According to recent legal complaints by consumers, some carriers don’t make customers aware that they are extending a service contract when a plan is changed before the contract ends.
Verizon and Alltel scored the highest in this year’s survey and T-Mobile matched satisfaction rates for Verizon in most of the cities surveyed. Consumer Reports gives good marks for T-Mobile plans that generally offer more service for the money than those of Verizon or Alltel.
All the service providers rated by Consumer Reports have pledged to prorate early-termination fees after Verizon announced it was leading the industry in this. Mandatory contract extensions are also expected to become more consumer friendly after Alltel and T-Mobile said they would change how business was done in the past.
If your mobile bill is too high, Consumer Reports offers five tips for saving money when you are connected and on-the-go:
1. Look into special-caller deals. Verizon Wireless and AT&T don’t charge for calls to other customers using the same service. Alltel’s My Circle plans provide free calling to any 10 designated wireless or landline numbers with any carrier; T-Mobile’s myFaves plans do the same, for five numbers.
2. Avoid overage charges. Consumers who plan on being on the cell more than usual can temporarily increase the monthly minute allotment to avoid overage charges as high as 45 cents per minute. Consumers should also check bills to ensure they are not running significantly under or over the plan’s minutes.
3. Control your child’s phone use. If runaway costs for a child’s cellphone are a problem, consider AT&T’s Smart Limits for Wireless service. It’s a $5-a-month option that allows consumers to control, via the Web, the numbers a child can call, text, or instant message, and the timing and duration of that activity.
4. Shop around for the extras. Comparing carriers or plans only by voice minutes can be an expensive mistake for consumers who will also be heavily using the phone’s other capabilities. Text messaging, now used by more than half of the respondents in Consumer Reports Annual Survey of Cell-Phone Service, can cost as much as 15 cents per message a la carte, more for multimedia attachments such as photos. By comparison, one can pay
as little as a penny per message in a monthly bundle. Rates vary similarly for a data plan for Web access.
5. Consider a pre-paid phone. Paying for calls by the minute may save money, especially for consumers who don’t usually come close to using up the time allotted by the fewest-minutes plans, typically 300 minutes a month. And no contract is required.
This issue of Consumer Reports also rates 60 phones and Bluetooth headsets. Portions of the report can be read free online at ConsumerReports.org.