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AARP Report Questions Cell Phone Service Quality; And Users Have Few Options

A new AARP report finds the more consumers use their cell phones, the less satisfied they are with their service and experience.

The report also found that almost half of cell phone users do not know who to contact to report a problem if they cannot resolve a problem with their service provider.

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute report, the findings raise concerns about the value and quality of the actual cell phone service subscribers receive. Among the highest volume users, 84 percent have experienced difficulties in making or receiving cell phone calls. Within this group, 30 percent say they experience difficulties on at least half of all their cell phone calls.

"These findings raise serious concerns as more people, including those age 50 and older, subscribe to cell phone service and become more dependent on their cell phones," says Theresa Varner, Director of AARP's Public Policy Institute. "This is especially troubling in a wireless industry where subscribers have few options or protections."

Consumers age 50 to 64 are about as likely as those age 18 to 49 to have cell phone service. But for subscribers age 65 and older, cell phone service typically serves as a lifeline – security in case of an emergency is the most common reason for having cell phone service. However, findings from the survey raise concerns about the value and quality of the actual cell phone service subscribers receive.

"Because cell phones often serve as a lifeline for older consumers," Varner said, "having trouble making or receiving calls can be a grave matter."

Service quality is also a significant issue in a virtually unregulated wireless industry. Service providers require long-term contracts with substantial penalties for early termination. In addition, consumers are forced to change their phone numbers in order to switch service providers.

Among high-volume cell phone users, 34 percent report that they have never switched their service provider because they want to avoid paying an early termination fee. Another 17 percent say they stay with their current provider to keep their current cell phone numbers. Because people want to keep their numbers, AARP continues to fight for cell phone portability to make changing service easier for consumers.

"Subscribers are essentially held captive in the wireless industry," says Varner. "That may not be a problem for some consumers, but if you are not happy with your service or want to switch providers for another reason, substantial obstacles may prevent you from making a change. In addition, many consumers don't know how to report problems they experience."

According to the survey, 46 percent of cell phone users do not know whom to contact to report a problem If they cannot resolve a problem with their service providers. Further, only 4 percent of users say they would contact the Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency that collects data on cell phone service complaints and inquiries.

For consumers who cannot resolve a problem with their cell phone service provider to their satisfaction, the FCC accepts complaints by telephone, fax, e-mail, postal mail, and through its online complaint page:

  • Voice: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
  • TTY: 1-888-TELL- FCC (1-888-835-5322)
  • Fax: 202-418-0232

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