by Allen Costantini
Senator Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minnesota), is taking on the powerful wireless phone industry. Klobuchar is the first Minnesotan in the upper house since 1913 to hold a seat on the Commerce Committee which overseas telecommunications.
Calling cell phones "no longer a luxury, but a necessary part of our lives," Klobuchar has co-written a "Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007" which would seek to rein in the fast growing wireless phone providers industry.
Speaking at Golden Valley City Hall Monday morning, Klobuchar was joined by two Minnesota State Lawmakers, a University Law Professor and a member of Nebraska Public Utilities Commission. They offered support for the eight points that Klobuchar's bill would impose on cell phone providers.
Limited, pro-rated "Early Termination Fees"
Detailed service area maps and disclosure of dropped calls and coverage gaps,
Full disclosure of all contract terms and conditions,
30 days to cancel contracts (for any reason) without penalty,
Itemized bills with no unauthorized fees or charges,
Point-of-sale notice of any contract extension (with right to cancel within 30 days) and written 30 day notice of any change in rates or terms.
"Consumers enter into restrictive contracts without full information. Once they've signed the contract, they often find the quality of their wireless provider service is not what they need or expect and they face cancellation fees that can cost hundreds of dollars if they try to find a better service or try to end their service before the termination date," Sen. Klobuchar explained.
The bill also gives servicemen and women the right to cancel a contract without penalty if they are being deployed overseas for U.S. military service. The latter point is moot in Minnesota, which already gives Minnesota's military men and women that right.
The Wireless industry is expected to use its large force of lobbyists to fight any new regulations.
Mark Jenkins of Marquis Mobile Solutions in Maplewood thinks the bill would not have dramatic impact.
"I think its intentions are good, but I don't think the bill itself is going to make any major change in the industry or any major change in the user experience."
Jenkins pointed out that the bill does address the actual problem of spotty coverage, but only requires companies to provide service maps.
Breck High School Senior Nick Derrico, 17, was puzzled by some of the hard luck stories presented by and to the panel.
"To be honest, I don't understand how you could get $2,000 worth of charges in a month and I think if you know what you're entering into, you ought to be fine."
Bennett Kelley, 82, of Plymouth argued that understanding the deal is precisely the problem.
"I didn't know that the moment you change your minutes up or down or do anything else, it's a new contract. I didn't know that. Maybe I should be smarter. I'm only a chemical engineer," said Kelley.
He gave Klobuchar a summary of his charges, which included a $175 termination fee. She promised to check into it.
Klobuchar said she wants the FCC to study the feasibility of separating the hardware and service provider components of cell phone sales into separate operations by separate companies. She said that might increase competition and benefit consumers.