California Gets Cellular Bill of Rights
By Eric Lin, Fri May 28 22:15:00 GMT 2004

The California Public Utility Commission approved the first cellular customer Bill of Rights in the US, but the Governor disapproves.

The Bill of Rights enables consumers to cancel their wireless contracts within 30 days of signing on. It also forces carriers to clearly state their rates as well as critical contract terms in normal size print on their websites (no more fine print). Companies will no longer be able to lump "recovery fees" in with taxes or other government fees on bills. Opponents say these new terms will create costly changes that the companies will have to pass on to the consumer. However many of the larger wireless operators already meet at least some of the requirements of the new law, though few meet them all or meet them fully.

Consumers and Consumer Groups may appreciate the new Bill of Rights, but Governor Schwarzenegger thinks the PUC overstepped their responsibilities. Normally the Public Utilities Commission regulates large virtual monopolies like power, cable, and landline phones critical to daily life. The fact that mobile service is now considered a public utility in California is a sign of just how thoroughly wireless has become integrated into our lives. But Schwarzenegger believes these new regulations will harm California's already tenuous relationship with high tech industries, giving them yet another reason to take their business elsewhere. No national carriers are headquartered in California, however chip makers Qualcomm and Intel are both based here.

Even before the PUC approved this measure, there were already a few lawsuits against the national wireless operators in the US court system, two of which are in California.. Nextel recently settled a lawsuit in Missouri. In San Diego, Verizon just settled its class-action case regarding billing practices and service limitations. The class action suit against AT&T Wireless for adding more GSM customers in California than network capacity could cover is still pending.