Editor's Note

Carriers of Confusion

I’m sure that many of you will recall the recent Verizon TV ad that opens with a man walking his dog with the Manhattan Bridge in the background. During the ad, the voice-over states that a majority of cellphone users pay for data limits that they never reach. Of course, that information is used to sell Verizon’s new plan that provides only 5GB of data. Nevertheless, the inclusion of that information represents a welcome instance of candidness from a member of an industry that often is anything but straightforward. Obviously, the dearth of openness is immensely inappropriate, because that greatly hinders the ability of consumers to identify which cellphone-service plan best suits them.

“It’s important that there be more transparency [in the cellphone-service sector], so consumers can make the right choice,” says David Kolata, who is the executive director of Citizens Utility Board.

Kolata tells Consumers Digest that his organization believes that it’s more difficult than it should be for consumers to optimize their cellphone-service plan to ensure that they pay only for what they use.

“We often joke about it, but it’s true: We had to write something like a 15-page guide to explain a one-page phone bill,” Kolata recounts.

Linda Sherry, who is the director of national priorities for Consumer Action, might border on kind when she attributes cellphone-service providers’ insensitive treatment of customers to a simple “disconnect.” She adds, “Companies can do a lot better job educating consumers about what to expect and the services that [the companies] do provide.”

Kolata’s and Sherry’s observations reinforce what our staff found when it carried out a 2-month investigation into the cellphone-service-provider industry. That effort culminated in our report, “Comparing Cellphone-Service Providers: Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know.” In addition to our findings in regard to the latest instances of a lack of transparency by cellphone-service providers, the article explains the misnomer that is “unlimited data,” the importance of cellphone-service providers’ launch of LTE Advanced technology, and the providers’ claims about nationwide coverage and dropped calls.

“Many unlimited-data plans aren’t necessarily right for every consumer,” Kolata states. “You might be better off just simply not signing up for those plans, which can be relatively expensive.”

“There’s probably a small-ish minority of people who were using so much [data] that the unlimited plans really made sense for them,” Sherry adds.

About “nationwide” coverage, Kolata says, “The general direction pushed by phone companies is to, essentially, move away from the obligation to serve on traditional landline phone service.” In this, Kolata speaks to cellphone-service-providers’ responsibility. “If the phone companies are trying to get out of the landline phone service business, [they] have to make sure that there are enough options for consumers,” particularly those who live in rural areas, where coverage is spotty, and depend on a landline.

Buying cellphone service is confusing, frustrating and, often, unnecessarily expensive. We empathize and hope that our report puts you in the best position possible to make a smart purchase decision.

Rich Dzierwa, Editor