Cell Phone ‘Bill Shock’ Remedy; To Little? Too Much? To Early to Tell.

October 23, 2010

Consumer’s are complaining about their cell phone bills to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in record numbers, and the agency has decided to take action. This week the FCC will release their proposal to require carriers to notify users of overage charges or sharp increases on their phone bills.

The FCC received 5,130 inquiries related to wireless charges In the first three months this year, representing a 28% increase over the same period in 2009. Furthermore, an FCC survey conducted earlier this year discovered that 30% of respondents claimed to have experienced “bill shock,” over unexpected charges related to data overcharges and other services that they only learned about when they received their bills.

According to the FCC, the most common issue for consumers are small charges and fees that consumers can’t figure out what they are for, according to Validas, a Texas-based company that audits telecom bills for corporations and individuals.

Edward J. Finegold, Validas’s chief analytics officer, said another key problem involves billing by third parties, such as a text-messaging service or ringtone provider, that piggyback on the carrier’s billing system and therefore land on user’s phone bills. For example, a user may send a text message to an outside service through an offer in, say, a videogame, expecting a one-time charge, but had the user read the fine print, they would have seen they actually authorized the service to automatically trigger a monthly subscription fee. “None of this is illegal, but most people would expect that if you have a trusted relationship with your carrier, it would have strict standards on third parties who add charges to its bills. But that is not happening.”

Advocacy groups don’t think the awaited proposal will go far enough, saying that with all the bundling of services, and the number of applications available for consumers to download, the ability for consumers to decipher the multi-page bills has become even more difficult.

The Wireless Association (CTIA) on the other hand, points to the fact that customers already have many ways to track their minutes and data usage. They have also advised against the legislation of billing practices proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), that aims to require cell phone carriers to notify customers by e-mail or text message – free of charge – when they have used 80 percent of their monthly limits. CTIA said in a statement about Udall’s bill: “We are concerned that this bill has the potential to cause customer confusion and frustration.”

It will be interesting to see the actual FCC proposal later this week to see if it finds the balance between informing consumers and reasonable carrier actions.


Getting hung up on cell phone insurance

August 30, 2010

Linda Criddle, president of LOOKBOTHWAYS Inc., and the Safe Internet Alliance was interviewed for today’s Chicago Tribune article Getting hung up on cell phone insurance

Excerpt from article:

“For most consumers, it’s not worth the money,” said David Kolata, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board. “It only potentially makes sense if you have a very, very expensive phone, but if you’re like most consumers, it’s not really a great deal.”

Why? Well, for one thing, it’s not cheap. In a review of thousands of consumers’ cell phone bills, Kolata’s agency found that roughly half of the customers purchased cell phone insurance, at an average cost of $5.64 a month.

Over the course of a year, that adds up. In some cases, you’ll be required to sign a two-year deal. By the time you’re done, you’ve paid more than $130 in insurance premiums. Most phones don’t cost that much new.

Even if you purchase a more expensive phone, there are other considerations. Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance, says consumers should check their phones’ warranties. If damages are covered for the first year, why buy insurance?

“It’s risk versus actuality and the cost of replacement, but make sure you know what the insurance would cover and what your warranty covers,” Criddle said. “Look at the delta between those two.”

If you decide to buy an insurance plan, read the description carefully. In most cases, cell phone insurers will not cover damage caused by water or other types of accidents, such as dropping the phone. “An alarming number of phones end up in toilets,” Criddle said.

Click here to read the full article.


6 Tips to Determine Whether To Insure Your Cell Phone

July 23, 2010

Whether or not you should purchase phone insurance is a question many consumers struggle over, and for good reason. Though in most cases the answer is no, it isn’t clear cut. Here are points to consider as you decide what might be right for you.

  1. How much would it cost to replace the phone? Even expensive phones may be ‘free’ as part of a contract deal, but instead of thinking about what you paid for the phone, think about what it would cost to replace. If your phone is inexpensive, forget insurance. If your phone very expensive, you may want to consider a few additional factors…
  2. What is covered by the manufacturers warranty? Do your research. Many potential issues are already covered in the first year by the phone manufacturer’ warranty. Understand what’s covered – and for how long – before making a decision to purchase additional insurance.  Some retailers also have a replacement policy. Check to see what, if anything, is covered by the retailer.
  3. Call your home, car, or renters insurance agent. Your phone may already be covered through an existing plan. If it is covered, ask about any exceptions that the insurance may not cover. Also ask whether filing a claim about a phone will impact your rates in any way.
  4. Find out about any known weaknesses with your particular phone model. Some phones are simply sturdier than others. Flip phones often break at the hinges, some are known to have issues. If the phone model that you want to purchase has a higher breakage rate than other phones, check the manufacturers warranty closely, then decide if this is the phone for you, and if so, if you want additional insurance.
  5. Understand exactly what the insurance does and, more importantly, doesn’t cover. This is one time where reading the FINE PRINT is critical. Compare the cost of the phone, to the cost of the insurance. Assume that you can get a new free/reduced cost phone after two years (the typical length of a phone contract) does the insurance cost more than the phone? Is there a deductible that you’ll have to cover?

    Learn whether any replacement phone will be new, or if they will have the option of sending you a different model or refurbished phone. You don’t want to pay for an old or used phone.

    Do some research to find out how difficult the insurance company’s claims process is. Some are so painful you’ll give up before getting a replacement.

  6. Are you, or the child you’re purchasing the phone for, clumsy or prone to losing things? If you aren’t likely to lose or drop your phone – or damage it in some other way – you probably don’t need insurance. On the other hand, if you’ve got a history of losing or breaking things, insurance may make more sense if the previous factors are also pointing in this direction.

There is one form of insurance that I always recommend – Backup! Backup! Backup your data!

If your phone was lost or destroyed, what information would you lose? If you break out in a cold sweat over the thought, the cost of the phone replacement may pale compared to the loss of the information it contains. If you have phone numbers, photos, texts, or other information stored on your phone that you don’t also have easily accessible somewhere else, it’s time to save this information.  Depending on your phone’s model, and your carrier, this may be automatically in place for you, it may take a simple backup, or it may be a very manual process. No matter the pain level, if it’s less than the pain you’d feel if you lost that information, back up the data today – and as frequently as you need to store any important information.

You should always have your phone password or pin protected so that someone finding or stealing your phone will not be able to use it. Additionally, if you have stored account information that allows you to automatically log into social network sites, conduct banking transactions, etc. Make a note of these so that if you lose your phone or it is stolen, you can immediately change passwords or close accounts to prevent others from accessing your sites.


Traveling This summer? Know What Cell Phone Laws Apply

July 21, 2010

Before crossing state or county lines on your summer road trip, take a moment to learn what the cell phone laws are for any area you plan on visiting.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, talking on a cell phone while driving is now illegal in 8 states, the District of Columbia and many jurisdictions, and texting while driving is banned for all users in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

States that ban talking on cell phones when driving include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington and the District of Columbia. In Utah, talking while driving is illegal only when the driver is also committing another moving violation other than speeding.

Even where states have not implemented bans, restrictions may apply by jurisdiction. Localities that have enacted restrictions on cell phone use include: Oahu, HI; Chicago, IL; Brookline, MA; Detroit, MI; Santa Fe, NM; Brooklyn, North Olmstead, and Walton Hills, OH; Conshohocken, Lebanon, and West Conshohocken, PA; Waupaca County, WI; and Cheyenne, WY.

States that ban texting when driving are highlighted in green on the map below, states shown in blue have restrictions for some driver segments, like young drivers and bus drivers. (For a full description of laws, see the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety‘s interactive maps)

Stay safe

Regardless of the legality of talking or texting while driving, numerous studies have made it clear that driving while talking on a cell phone (hand-held or hands-free), or texting significantly increases your accident risk. Consider the following stats:

  • Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah)
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. (Source: Carnegie Mellon)
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured. (Source: NHTSA)
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
  • The annual cost of crashes caused by cell phone use is estimated at $43 billion (Source: Harvard Center for Risk Analysis).

This summer, may your trips be distraction free and your memories unencumbered by accidents.


Child Cell Phone Safety

July 13, 2010

Here is the promised cell phone safety tools follow up to my New Trends in Child Safety Monitoring Tools for PC’s.

With 21% 8-10 year-olds, and close to 70% of 11-14 year-olds having their own cell phone, providing families the ability to help protect their children in the mobile environment is critical.

Family safety tools, often called parental controls or child protection tools, for internet accessible mobile devices were slow to arrive, but today several a flurry of products aims to fill the void by merging state of the art technology with the customization families need.

Though still not perfect, mobile safety products are worth considering if you have kids, tweens, or younger teens using cell phones, and the safeguards you can put in place through the phone and service provider are not enough.

However, monitoring tools can only do so much toward protecting your children, teaching youth how to be responsible online, how to protect themselves, and what to do if there’s trouble is a job that can’t be delegated to software.

Mobile safety choices:

  1. Select a phone that is appropriate for your child. There are very simple phones for the youngest users that can essentially do only one thing – place calls – and those calls can be restricted to certain numbers. On the other end of the spectrum are the ‘smart phones’ that are likely to include photo and video filming and viewing, GPS (location tracking) functionality, the ability to chat and use social networks, conduct financial transactions, have removable memory, and more.  Think through the safety and privacy implications and responsibilities that come with each feature and select a phone that you and your child/tween/teen can both be comfortable with.
  2. Choose the carrier that best fits your needs. Consistent coverage is always the first concern for phone purchasers, but for youth you want to also consider what safety features the carrier offers. Verizon has the most comprehensive family safety/parental control options (see also Verizon Safeguards)among mobile service providers, but all the major carriers have at least some safety features. (see comparison chart below)
  3. Pick the phone plan that provides only the functionality you want for your child. You can choose to purchase a plan that allows text messaging, photo sharing, and internet access – or not. Add these as you feel your child is ready to take on the greater responsibility for appropriately using these features. Talk to your carrier’s sales personnel to learn more about the safety functionality they provide, and, if you feel anxious about your ability to set the controls on your child’s phone yourself, ask the sales person to set these up for you.
    1. Another consideration when choosing your child’s phone plan is whether you want your child to have a prepaid plan, a monthly independent plan, or include your child on your family plan. Selecting a plan that allows you to review the bill each month gives you a strong method for monitoring their use and safety. The phone bill should show you what times of day calls/texts are made or received, how much time is spent on the phone, who your child is interacting with, what websites they’re visiting, etc. This helps you to see where there may be concerns like texts/calls during school hours or late at night or calls to numbers you don’t know.
  4. Have the ‘Talk’. Before your child gets their first phone, talk about each type of functionality they’ll be able to use, and what is – and isn’t – appropriate behavior, what types of information are ok to share and what isn’t, what times of day and with whom it is suitable to communicate, and how to treat others with respect. Talk about how to report trouble and assure your child you’ll help if they need you, learn together how to block callers, and use other safety features Based on your child’s age, talking about talking/texting and driving, cyberbullying via cell phones, and sexting may be appropriate.Discussing in advance your family’s safety rules, and being up front about the technologies you will employ to monitor behavior is crucial. Though many programs allow you to spy on your kids using a stealth mode, doing so will break down the trust between you and is likely to cause serious harm to your relationships.Include in your discussion clear ground rules for using the phone and the consequences of failing to use the phone appropriately. Cell phones aren’t a ‘right’ they’re a privilege and failure to appropriately handle a privilege can result in the retraction of that privilege.

    That said, I am not a proponent of taking away a child’s cell phone as a punishment for things unrelated to cell phone use. For example, if you wouldn’t take away pens and pencils from your child if they wrote mean notes, then taking away the cell phone of someone who writes mean texts doesn’t really make sense. The punishment for bullying should be about the behavior, not the tool. However, if your child is making or accepting phone calls in the middle of the night, taking the phone away at bedtime and giving it back in the morning makes sense.

    Be clear about your level of direct monitoring. If you feel that periodically sitting down with your child and reviewing their contacts, texts, photos, etc is appropriate – and it is based on age and the child’s maturity – this expectation should be well understood by your kids up front so you avoid unhappy confrontations in the future.

  5. Continue having the ‘Talk’. Once your child has a cell phone, sit down periodically to discuss how well they’re managing the freedom and responsibility the phone affords them. When they demonstrate that they can use the existing phone features appropriately, allow them to add additional features and functionality and step up their level of self management.
  6. Decide if your child needs additional safety or monitoring tools. These tools break down into three primary categories: tools that filter content and contact, tools that monitor and block usage, and tools to track the child’s location. Which tools will be appropriate for your situation is something only you can determine, but you have a number of options. GetParentalControls.org provides an excellent overview of available cell phone safety services in their Mobile phones Parental Controls Product Comparison 2010 (see comparison chart below). Like all comparisons, this chart (see below) represents a snapshot in time. Since its release, additional tools have come available. Most noteworthy of these is McAfee‘s Online Family Protection for Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. To find the latest

Your goal is to help protect your kids while helping them to become fully capable, independent, responsible online citizens on any device. As kids mature, the settings you use to monitor them need to be reevaluated. Ideally you do this 2-3 times a year, but at least do so once a year. You need to transition responsibility for their behavior, and for the content, programs and sites they use as they demonstrate they have mastered the skills needed, and accepted the corresponding responsibilities that new services and activities require.


Mobile Phone Tip – Protect the Environment

March 4, 2010

Cell phones, like all products take resources to make, package and transport. However, there are things we can do to reduce the environmental impact.

Do your part by choosing the right phone for you and keeping it longer. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for charging your battery to extend its life. Then, donate your phone to extend its life even further.

Donating old phones gives people and organizations who could not otherwise afford a phone, free or low cost alternatives. Many carriers, charities, phone manufacturers, and electronic recyclers allow you to donate working cell phones.

Don’t throw your phone in the garbage. Phones contain metals, plastics, chemicals, and other hazardous materials, which can harm the environment if not disposed of properly.

Think Green


Talking and Driving, a Dangerous Mix

January 23, 2010

The New York Times has compiled a great series of articles on the use of mobile phones while driving. It is a list worth perusing as distracted drivers, particularly those under 30, continue to wreak havoc on the roads.

For a listing of state-by-state cell phone driving laws, go to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s Cellphone Driving Laws Page.

Also, check out my previous blogs:



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