Cell Phone Industry Growth Fuels Customer Complaints

One year after the CPUC suspended the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights, consumers frustrated by inadequate service and inaccurate bills.

For Immediate Release From The Utility Reform Network

Exactly one year after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) suspended the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights, consumers frustrated by inadequate service and inaccurate bills returned to the Commission with evidence that the same complaints that fueled initial passage of the measure continue to grow at an alarming rate.

Recent statistics show that cell phone use has grown to 68% of the population. But in a recent Consumer Reports survey, 47% of cellular customers reported dissatisfaction, a higher dissatisfaction rating than reported for hotels, supermarkets, digital cable television and health maintenance organizations.

Confusing calling plans, hidden fees, faulty service, marketing abuses targeting non-English speakers and outrageous early termination fees were just a few of the complaints voiced by angry customers from diverse communities throughout California. All urged CPUC action to revive the landmark set of consumer protections suspended last year.

"Enough is enough," said Mitzi Mock of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA). "While the CPUC delays implementation of the Bill of Rights, consumers continue to suffer. People with disabilities count on reliable and accessible telecommunications services, since they encounter barriers in arenas like transportation and public accommodations frequently. The Bill of Rights lays out simple rules that will alleviate some of the problems these consumers are having." The issue has been the subject of an intense lobbying campaign by the cell phone companies, who fear that basic rights for customers in California will spark similar demands in other states. Unlike consumers of many other goods and services, cellular customers are currently not entitled to timely written contracts, reliable service or accurate bills.

"The remarkable growth of the cell phone industry has been accompanied by a growing disregard for customers," said Bob Finkelstein, executive director of non-profit consumer advocacy organization TURN, The Utility Reform Network. "Consumers testifying before the CPUC today are only a handful of the thousands that have been complaining loudly and clearly about the abuse they suffer at the hands of their cell phone company. How unhappy do consumers have to be before the CPUC will act?"

TURN, DRA and a coalition of consumer groups oppose a proposal by Commission President Peevey to gut the Consumer Bill of Rights, and both groups support the alternate proposal by Commissioner Grueneich that includes many critical consumer protections.