Wireless industry adopts voluntary code to improve cell phone service

Tuesday, September 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The cellular industry adopted a list of voluntary guidelines Tuesday aimed at improving customer service and heading off possible government regulations.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an industry group, said its 10-point code is designed to give consumers more information about wireless services and rate plans.

CTIA President Tom Wheeler said the guidelines show the industry can police itself so government intervention is not needed.

``Dragging wireless down with heavy regulations is simply old monopolistic think, and only hurts consumers,'' he said.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell applauded the industry's move, but said cell phone companies already are obligated to address customer problems.

``Industry has to solve them or it will create a situation in which it invites government to solve them,'' Powell said, speaking at a lunch sponsored by Republican lawmakers.

The code includes providing new customers with a minimum 14-day trial period for new service and allowing people to end service if there are significant changes to their contracts.

Some consumer advocates were skeptical of the new code.

``Instead of taking concrete steps to ensure that consumers receive quality service at a reasonable price, cell phone companies offer a 2 1/2-page set of vague promises that can't be enforced,'' said Janee Briesemeister, an analyst with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. ``Why should we trust the companies to police themselves when they haven't in the past?''

The code includes these promises from wireless companies:

_Provide ready access to customer service.

_Provide coverage maps, illustrating where service is generally available.

_Disclose the rates and terms of service in every advertisement that mentions pricing.

_Promptly respond to consumer inquiries and complaints received from government agencies.

_Provide consumers specific disclosures regarding rates and terms of service for every rate plan or contract.

_Abide by policies for the protection of customer privacy.

_Clearly state contract terms to customers and confirm changes in service when initiating or changing service.

_Separately identify carrier charges from taxes on billing statements.