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12/3/2007
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More Than Half Of Cell Phone Users Dissatisfied: Consumer Reports Survey

Survey respondents were mainly dissatisfied with mandatory contract extensions imposed on them by wireless carriers, as well as the high cost of service.

Cell phone service is among the lowest-rated services, according to a survey released Monday by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The survey, due to be published in the 2008 issue of Consumer Reports, found that fewer than half of respondents were completely or very satisfied with their cell phone service. It has been among the lowest-rated services by Consumer Reports for the past six years. More than 47,000 people were surveyed in 20 major metropolitan areas across the United States.

Survey respondents were mainly dissatisfied with mandatory contract extensions imposed on them by wireless carriers, as well as the high cost of service. More than 60% of respondents that made changes to their service plan last year were required to extend their contract. In some cases, carriers aren't upfront with customers about extensions so the 60% survey result might downplay the problem, according to Consumer Reports.

T-Mobile, for example, is facing a class-action lawsuit that asks a California court to prevent the carrier from collecting money for early termination fees and from locking cell phones. California's highest court gave its go-ahead for the lawsuit in October, after T-Mobile asked it to dismiss the case.

Verizon Wireless and Alltel both scored better than other wireless carriers in the survey, as they have in the past. The other major carriers include AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

Verizon Wireless is likely to have an edge over the other carriers next year as well, since the carrier has announced plans to open up its nationwide network to outside mobile devices, software, and applications starting next year. The move is expected to lead the way for Verizon Wireless customers to use handsets that previously were unavailable to them.

Consumer Reports, however, noted that the carriers are becoming more consumer-friendly since all of them have come out with changes to their policies to prorate early-termination fees, which range from $150 to $200.

AT&T was the latest carrier to enforce such a policy, which goes into effect early next year and will apply to new and renewing customers who sign a one or a two-year contract. Customers who terminate a contract early will no longer have to pay a flat early termination fee. The fee will be lowered during the term of the contract.

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