When his cell phone company gave him the runaround, Jim Waring got mad. But when he heard similar stories from others, he used his power as a state senator to introduce legislation which, if approved, would create a cell phone user’s “Bill of Rights” for Arizona customers.
SB1010 would bar cell companies from requiring customers to sign contracts for more than one year. Most companies mandate two-year contracts or charge customers much higher prices for their phones.
It also would:
• Allow customers to cancel contracts for any reason within 30 days without penalty.
• Permit users to rescind contracts if providers violate any provisions of the contract.
• Require providers to give customers an itemized bill without additional charge.
• Forbid companies from giving out customer information to others without specific prior written consent.
And perhaps most important to the Phoenix Republican, his legislation also would bar cell phone companies from requiring customers whose cell phones break during the warranty
period to sign contract extensions.
The legislation already has received the attention of the industry: Waring said lobbyists for the providers are working to kill the bill.
Susan Bitter Smith, who represents the Arizona Competitive Telecommunications Association, the league of cell phone providers in the state, acknowledged meeting with Waring but insisted members of her organization have not yet taken an official stance.
But when another state senator, also unhappy with her phone service, introduced similar legislation last year, Bitter Smith and her companies successfully fought it off, calling it unnecessary.
Waring said his own experience proves otherwise.
The senator said he had grown accustomed to poor customer service, confusing phone bills and what he believes were unjustified charges.
But it all came to a head when his cell phone stopped operating four months after he got it.
That caused particular heartburn because Waring, like many Arizonans, has no other telephone.
He said his cell company insisted it was water damage.
“We’re in the middle of a drought,” Waring said. “I don’t have a pool.”
Their answer, he said, was that just steam from the shower or even sweat in a T-shirt could cause the phone to short out.
Waring said the company offered to provide him with a rebuilt phone — but only if he would sign a new two-year contract.
He said the net result of these practices is to “blackmail” customers: Sign a contract extension or be without service — and continue to have to pay the monthly fee for the balance of the contract or be slapped with an early termination fee.