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Cellular Phones

First offered in the 1980s by only two carriers, today cellular phones are offered by dozens of carriers. According to industry reports, more than one half of all Americans own a cellular phone.

Who can help me when I have a dispute with my cellular phone provider?
In response to a growing concern among state and federal regulators among others, the cellular telephone industry introduced its Wireless Code of Conduct, a voluntary consumer code. If you have a dispute with your cellular phone provider, read the Wireless Code of Conduct to find out the generally accepted polices. Then contact your cellular provider. If your cellular provider does not resolve the matter to your satisfaction, you can contact the Public Utilities Commission or you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. While the Commission does not regulate cellular telephones, our Consumer Affairs Division is available to assist you with complaints about your cellular service.

What is the difference between analog and digital?
There are essentially two types of coverage: analog and digital. Calls made on digital networks are clearer, more secure, and more feature-rich than calls made on analog networks. Because analog technology has been in use since the 1980’s, virtually every part of the country where people live has analog coverage. Carriers have deployed digital technology more recently and, therefore, digital service plans and coverage tend to be available in the more populated and highly-traveled areas of the country. The FCC estimates approximately 97% of the U.S. population lives in counties that have some digital coverage. However, significant portions of the country’s land area do not have access to digital service. Carriers are constantly upgrading their networks to expand the areas where they can offer digital cellular telephone service.

Why do I experience dropped calls, dead spots and busy signals?
Even where a carrier offers coverage in a specific geographic area, you may not be able to complete a given call due to limitations in network architecture or capacity. When a carrier fails to hand off a call in progress, as you travel from one part of the carrier’s network to another, a “dropped call” results. When many customers use a carrier’s network at the same time, its capacity becomes constrained. Other customers trying to connect will hear a busy signal instead of being able complete their calls. Topography can also affect coverage, causing “dead spots”. A dead spot is an area where service is not available because the signal between the handset and the cell tower is blocked, usually by hilly terrain, excessive foliage, or tall buildings. Carriers are constantly improving and upgrading their networks in order to minimize these types of problems.

Can I get help paying for my cell phone service?
There are Federal programs that can assist consumers with paying the bills for their cell phone service.  Lifeline is a federal program that helps qualified individuals pay for wireless or home telephone service. Most telephone companies lower the cell phone bill each month. Some companies provide free wireless minutes each month or may offer a free cell phone with limited minutes.  A number of wireless providers participate in this Federally funded program.  You would need to contact that particular wireless provider for more information.  Here are three that you may wish to contact:

  • Safelink Wireless 1-800-723-3546 (TracFone Wireless)
  • Assurance Wireless 1-888-321-5880 (Virgin Mobile)
  • Lifeline 1-800-447-1339 (US Cellular)

More information about cellular phone service is available from the Federal Communications Commission. There are also a number of consumer information web sites available that provide consumer information on cellular phone service including side-by-side comparisons of the service plans available in a given area, general advice on purchasing a mobile phone, educational information on wireless technology, user ratings of phones and pricing plans, listings of dead spots by location and carrier, and answers to commonly asked questions.

Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) provides free consumer information on its web site, including details on various mobile service plans available in major U.S. markets and their accompanying phones.

J. D. Power (www.jdpower.com/telecom/) provides ratings on its web site of all the wireless carriers in major U.S. cities. The carriers are rated on various criteria, including call quality, cost, and customer service.

CTIA (www.wow-com.com) is a trade association representing the wireless industry. Its web site contains tips for consumers on purchasing mobile service as well as an overview of all mobile phones that have hands-free accessories.

AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org) provides on its web site, a published survey entitled “Understanding Consumer Use of Wireless Phone Service” that discusses various issues related to wireless service and older consumers.

The sources listed on this page represent a sample of the consumer information available to the public on wireless issues and is not meant to be a complete list. In addition, the NHPUC does not vouch for the accuracy of the information contained in these web sites and publications.