My cell phone is so old…

Since moving to Madison over five years ago, I have been a US Cellular subscriber. I’ve been fairly happy with the service over the years, and its customer service had been really outstanding, until recently. My last contract ended in May 2005, and I held off on buying a new phone because I was happy with my very basic phone.

However, I recently received a letter from US Cellular stating that my phone may not have GPS capability for enhanced 911 service (E911), and that I would need to upgrade my phone now or pay a substantial monthly fee, by order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After looking at the phone and plan choices online, I realized that I was not very happy with the options. One phone sales representative from US Cellular informed me that he thought the “substantial charge” could be around $20, but he was unsure (this was the person that answered when you call the 800 number on the letter). Other sales representatives (one through the US Cellular call center, the other at the local US Cellular store) told me that they had no information about how much the FCC would charge.

When I asked how long I had before I would need to pay this fee, the first representative told me that I had 10 days from receiving the letter to get the better price on the phone. The other two sales representatives did not know when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) would start charging for this.

Being the astute analyst that I am, I decided to call the FCC. I stated that I received a letter from my phone provider, and the operator immediately asked if it was from US Cellular. I learned that the Wireless Bureau was investigating.

I then checked with the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection (TCP). They informed me that they would look into this. In the meantime, I started looking at other cell plans and phones. Within a week, this issue had come to a close with TCP’s investigation (the press release below has more information), but I chose to move on to a different service.

Although I had been impressed overall with US Cellular’s customer service over the past five years, I chose to switch carriers for a number of reasons: I was unimpressed with the US Cellular phones, I would need to switch to nationwide coverage if I travel out of my home area (other companies do not charge roaming fees anywhere in the US anymore), and availability of service across the nation is more complete with at least two of the other providers. A separate incident in which a US Cellular telephone representative called me to upgrade my plan and my phone in January also raised a red flag for me.

I switched to Verizon Wireless. Since making the switch, I’ve been happy with the service. I haven’t had any problems with coverage since, and most people haven’t had any problems hearing me. I was given 15 days to try the service, but it looks like I’ll remain with it for the next two years (longer if the service is still as good as or better than today). I also bought a camera phone, which I never expected to purchase (it’s a useful just-in-case feature), so I also use the e-mail feature. And if I have to travel for an emergency, I don’t need to worry about roaming charges. Overall, I’m very happy with my new service and phone.

NBC15 article: Cell Phone GPS Deadline

DATCP press release: U.S. Cellular “Regrets Confusion”