September 7, 2007
Washington, D.C. – Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) today unveiled legislation aimed at empowering the 200 million cell phone customers nationwide to make informed choices about a wireless service that best fits their needs and their budget.
The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007 will require wireless service providers to share simple, clear information on their services and charges with customers before they enter into long-term contracts; a thirty-day window in which to exit a contract without early termination fees; and greater flexibility to exit contracts with services that don’t meet their needs.
“The rules governing our wireless industry are a relic of the 1980’s, when cell phones were a luxury item that fit in a briefcase instead of a pocket,” said Klobuchar. “Early termination fees are a family budget-buster; families should be able to terminate service without outrageous fees; know if their cell phone will work on their drives and in their home and office; and understand what to expect in their monthly bills once you pile on charges and fees. It’s a simple matter of fairness.”
“Anyone who’s looked at a cell phone bill knows it’s a hodge-podge of fees and surcharges that supposedly cover regulatory or administrative costs,” said Rockefeller. “The reality is, often these are nothing more than operating costs that the companies are passing on to the consumer disguised as fees and taxes. It’s high time to protect cell phone users from these deceptive billing practices.”
Among the bills provisions are: detailed data on coverage areas and dropped calls provided to consumers before committing to a long-term contract; pro-rated early termination fees for those who exit their contract after thirty days; the ability to exit a contract within thirty days without a termination fee when wireless service is found to be unsatisfactory; and transparency in contracts and billing, including explanations of taxes and fees.
The legislation also calls upon the FCC to study the practice of “locking” phones – making them exclusive to one service provider and requiring consumers to purchase a new phone when changing carriers.
The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act will be introduced in the Senate on Friday. Earlier this week, Senators Klobuchar and Rockefeller sent a letter to Chairman Inouye requesting a hearing before the Commerce Committee.
THE CELL PHONE CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT ACT OF 2007
•EARLY TERMINATION FEES (ETF)
-The FCC shall set forth regulations to pro-rate ETFs. At a minimum, the ETF for a 2-year contract shall be reduced by ½ after 1 year.
•MAPPING AND SERVICE QUALITY
-Maps are to be detailed enough to identify whether or not a consumer shall be able to receive wireless service at the consumer’s home.
-Wireless providers shall provide the FCC with information on dropped calls and coverage gaps; and the FCC shall make this information publicly available.
•DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS FOR PLANS AND CONTRACTS
-Publication of the terms of a wireless plan shall include information on: contract terms; charges; minutes; information on taxes and surcharges; wireless E-911 service; and other information that the FCC considers appropriate.
-This information shall be given to a consumer prior to entering into any contract.
-Taxes and fees shall be set forth in a separate section of the bill; and roaming charges shall be separately itemized and sent to a subscriber not later than 60 days after such calls were placed.
-Carriers will not be able to list charges or fees other than fees for the wireless service and any charge expressly authorized by federal, state, or local regulation.
•CONTRACT EXTENSION, MODIFICATION, OR RESCISSION
-Extension: An extension of a contract shall not be valid unless the wireless provider provides point-of-sale notice of the extension to the customer and allows the customer to cancel the extension within 30 days after such notice.
-Modification: Wireless carriers must provide subscribers with written notices of changes in rates and terms at least 30 days before such changes are to take effect.
-Rescission: A contract for wireless service may be canceled upon the request of a subscriber for any reason up to 30 days after entering into the contract.
•REPORT ON HANDSET PORTABILITY AND HANDSET QUALITY
-The FCC shall submit a report to Congress that studies the practice of handset locking in the United States and the effect of handset locking on consumer behavior and competition.
•TERMINATION OF CONTRACTS FOR ARMED SERVICE PERSONNEL
-U.S. military personnel may terminate their cell phone contracts if, during the term of the contract, the member receives orders for deployment outside of the U.S. for a period of not less than 90 days.
-The FCC shall enforce the legislation’s provisions and the attorney general of a State, or the public utility commission of a State may bring a civil action in federal district court or establish or use existing administrative procedures to enforce the Act’s provisions.
-The Act preempts state law, except that the Act does not preempt state laws that provide additional protections to wireless subscribers.
Alas, this is in the U.S. and just a proposal. Meanwhile, here in New Zealand we have two mobile operators on a comfortable position with 50% of the market each, running their own set of rules, with contracts locking customers in (and out), early termination fees that are not reduced half way through contracts and billing systems so badly designed and implemented that there is no month without people complaining of wrong charges in their accounts.
Currently all Vodafone New Zealand handsets are unlocked and I can imagine in twelve months time (or less) this will change, since Telecom New Zealand has announced its plans to introduce a EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA network in the country, moving away from its current CDMA service.
TravelBug is not linked from TradeMe bar yet, but you can start using it now.
The website is powered by Vianet, a New Zealand company that specialises in travel content, booking, etc.
What "bugs" me is the need to create yet another user account...
Telecom decided to give one week free Internet to all of its Xtra users, regardless of them being affected or not.
But most importantly, Telecom is also donating $1 million to four New Zealand charity organisations as voted by its users.
One of these organisations, the Granulosa Cell Tumour Foundation NZ, reached out for the on-line communities and asked that Geekzone users vote for them. I did so, as well as others, because I was impressed on them reaching out for our community, instead of placing money in advertising and other stuff.
So check the discussion on Geekzone, and vote now. You must be an Xtra customer to be able to vote - even if you only have an e-mail address with them, like myself.
Do you know when you go to a conference and there are all those "Place your business card in this jar to be in to win [insert your product here]"? Yes, we've seen these around a lot.
I want to be in the draw, but I don't want to be contacted later for anything else but to be told I won something!
So I thought we could add this line to the bottom of our business cards:
[x] Please do not contact me with additional information about your products or services
And with this simple line we clearly opt out of such communications. I wonder how many companies would be happy with this?
It was an interesting chat, where we discussed about how effective this act can be, knowing that the majority of spam comes out of the U.S. and some Asian countries. Those people are not interested in our laws and they completely disregard order anyway.
But Richard made a point that this is a good start, the start of something larger, including the collaboration of other countries, by making it clear that we do not tolerate this intrusion.
And here comes the thing: Symantec is working to release yet another layer in its anti-spam product line, this time providing a software as a service implementation "in the cloud". This means a non-software and non-appliance solution, aimed at companies from five to 2000 employees.
Basically Symantec will reroute a company's e-mail to their own servers, scan and clean any e-mails before forwarding those to their final destinations. It's not much different from a solution such as Spamdunk, I think.
The interesting thing is that Richard's team is currently looking for local partners to bring this service to the market, and also working to establish a New Zealand-based datacenter to provide the service in-country.
It looks like the new service will be available sometime in the next month or two.
You can get some insight into the Unsolicited Electronics Message Act 2007 by reading this post on Bell Gully.
But where's the 25 Mbps service you promised us, TelstraClear?
This movie was filmed by Neil Blomkamp here in Wellington, New Zealand and is the first installment on a trilogy used to promote the Halo 3 launch. The team at Weta Workshop helped creating all the props.
Some of the photos I received from the filming:
I know there are some in the market - New Zealand's own Navman (now owned by MiTAC) and a couple of other software solutions. It will be good to see what the world's largest personal in-car solution provider will bring to the country.
I won't be able to be there it though, because I will be heading to Sydney to attend the Symantec Vision 2007 (had booked that already).
First I will be a bit critical: I think everyone at IBM New Zealand, from General Manager Katrina Trroughton down, were the target of a viral distribution of Shift Happens (author, video, wiki) because the buzzwords and questions you see throughout the video were repeated a lot of times, by different speakers, during the whole day.
The keynote The New Working Frontier - How Our Children Are Beating Us to It, by Cliff Dennett, was worth attending. He traced a parallel between gaming and collaboration, attention management, and planning. Food for thought and very well put, although I wonder how many of the middle managers attending would feel inclined to go back to their desks and suggest something as revolutionary as using computer-based games to train and retain staff and clients. But if you attended the session, please put some work into that. It all makes sense, I assure you!
I then spent some time visiting the exhibitions around the show floor, and noticed the main topics around were virtualisation and unified communication - this a theme already present in the IBM Forum 06.
I had contrasting experiences when poking around the virtualisation area. While talking to IBM partner VMWARE I asked if I would notice any difference in performance between VMWARE Server and Microsoft Virtual Server. The technical person was clear: you might not notice any difference in performance between those two tools. And this gave me an incentive to actually try their virtualisation software later to see it by myself.
He then pointed out that VMWARE ESX Server would be a completely different thing: you see, VMWARE ESX Server is installed in the bare metal, and requires no OS to run - unlike VMWARE Server (Windows, Linux) or Microsoft Virtual Server (Windows). So one less layer to worry about, which can actually speed things up. But wait for Microsoft Hypervisor technology to show up soon...
Now the "interesting": I walked to the Integral stand (flash-based site) to find out more about their vision of Utiliy Computing. It just happens that their computing on demand solution is the use of virtual environments on blade servers, providing customers with additional power if the need arises. Well, if I understood correctly what I was told, it's like "we can run as many virtual servers you need in our hosted solution and if your requirements grows we can order more blade servers". Which to me doesn't mean "instantaneous elastic and resilient computing" under certain conditions.
Note that this approach is a bit different to what some mainframe companies are doing, where extra computing power is delivered with every system and always available on demand, with clients paying for a set level of performance, and any excess automatically metered and then charged to the client's account. Note that IBM themselves also provide some "metered computing".
But what really surprised me was when I asked the consultant to tell me how their solution compared with Amazon EC2 (Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud) and Amazon S3 (Amazon Simple Storage Service) and he didn't know about these offerings - interesting because I dare say Amazon EC2 is the cream in terms of utility computing, while Amazon S3 is the top of storage virtualisation.
But, yes, I am planning to be at the IBM Forum 08 when it comes back to town.