Educational Consumer Tips

Cellular Phone Services

Author: Better Business Bureau

The following is Better Business Bureau (BBB) general information and is not intended as a report on any specific company.

Whether used for safety purposes or for convenience, the cellular telephone allows its carrier to make and receive calls virtually anytime. Before purchasing a wireless plan, however, you should understand what services you'll need and what services are available. What seems to be an attractive plan may have drawbacks that offset its advantages; careful self-assessment and comparative shopping could save you a lot of money.


When selecting a service provider, you should decide to and from where you will be making the majority of your calls, then find out what is included in local plans and the rates during peak and off-peak hours. Be prepared for costs in addition to the monthly access charge, including activation fees, network access charges, early termination fees, etc. It is important to select a carrier that provides support with 24-hour customer service and account management. The location from which you make your calls is important in the billing process. Each service provider designates a different local service area. Some plans consider one county a local area, while other plans include the entire East Coast. Keep in mind that when you are outside your local service area, you are roaming. All plans charge separate roaming rates when you make a call from outside the local area. Some plans have a flat rate for roaming and long distance calls, but all service providers charge a fee for making a call outside the local service area. 

Be sure to choose a plan that includes as "local" the areas where you call the most. Your monthly statement of charges will depend largely on how many local minutes and features are included. The greater the number of minutes offered, the larger the monthly fees; long distance calls are generally not included. Additional perks - caller ID, voicemail, call waiting, etc.- also vary widely from plan to plan. If you need a feature not included in the package deal, you may have to pay additional fees. Also, find out if the phone itself is included in the contract or monthly charges, and ask about insurance on the phone in case it is lost or stolen. Once you've determined how many "free" minutes are part of a plan, find out the per minute charges when your free minutes are up. The amount you pay per minute usually varies according to the time the call is placed. Peak hours, the busiest and most expensive time to make a call, are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. All other hours are generally considered off-peak, but be sure to check with your provider. 


Bear in mind that unlike regular telephone services that only charge outgoing calls, wireless services charge for local and long-distance incoming calls. That means if you receive a long distance call - a call from someone outside your defined service area - you may be charged for it, but at local minute costs. Some plans also charge a landline fee, a fee for a call made to any regular telephone; unless you correspond from your cellular telephone to another cellular telephone, you may be charged a minimal landline fee, depending on the plan and service. Like regular phone service, long-distance charges apply in outbound calls unless otherwise indicated. 

If a company advertises that long distance calls are $.25/minute during peak hours, your call will cost $.25 in addition to the local airtime charges. When the long distance rate is added to the home airtime charge, the call may end up costing $.75/minute or higher, depending on the plan. If you make or receive a long distance call while roaming, you will be charged the roaming fee plus long distance charges unless otherwise indicated, which could mean you'd pay more than $1.00/minute depending on your plan. Many cellular services are considering a voluntary set of guidelines to help reduce customer complaints and prevent government regulation. 

The BBB suggests you consider asking potential providers about the following: 

*Are all rates and terms disclosed to their customers? 

*Are maps provided showing the coverage areas? 

*Will they confirm significant changes in service in writing? 

*Do they give customers a 14-day trial period? 

*Is key information provided in their advertisements? 

*Does their billing system separate company charges from taxes? 

*Do they allow customers to cancel if key changes are made to their services? 

*Do they provide easy access to customer service? 

*Do they respond to complaints promptly? 

*What are their privacy policies? 

For more information on cellular services, contact: 

Better Business Bureau
(800) 828-5000 

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) 
2500 Wilson Boulevard Arlington, VA 22201 
(703) 907-7700 

Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) 
1250 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 
(202) 785-0081 

Federal Trade Commission 
(877) 382-4357 

Federal Communications Commission
(888) 225-5322 

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.