The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act: Hope On The Horizon or Just Another Political Publicity Stunt?


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I have seen a lot written in the past week or so about the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act, which was introduced last Friday by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).  Frankly, it just annoys me how much I have already seen about this bill.  Mainly because it was just introduced, which means it is light years from actually affecting any of us.  Nonetheless, you can see the highlights of the bill after the break.

According to the Press Release, the bill’s highlights include:

•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.

•CONTRACT BILLING

-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.

•ENFORCEMENT

-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.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? But come on. Why are we even talking about this right now? This is an election year. Does anyone else remember the civics lessons of our youth? Yes, for those of you living in the Western hemisphere, I am talking about Schoolhouse Rock. Let’s take a look at the song, “I’m Just A Bill.”

Boy: Whew! You sure gotta climb
a lot of steps to get to this
Capitol Building here in
Washington. But I wonder who
that sad little scrap of paper is?

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee,
But I know I’ll be a law some day
At least I hope and pray that I will
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: Gee, Bill, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage.
Bill: Well, I got this far. When I started I wasn’t even a bill, I was just an idea.
Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called
their local Congressman, and said, “You’re right, there oughta be a law.”
Then he sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Congress. And I
became a bill, and I’ll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law.

I’m just a bill
Yes I’m only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, now I’m stuck in committee
And I’ll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss
and debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
How I hope and pray that they will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: Listen to those Congressmen arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you?
Bill: Yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they
decide
to report on me favorably, otherwise I may die.
Boy: Die?
Bill: Yeah, die in committee. Ooh, but it looks like I’m gonna live!
Now I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.
Boy: If they vote yes, what happens?
Bill: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.
Boy: Oh no!
Bill: Oh yes!

I’m just a bill
Yes, I’m only a bill
And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I’m off to the White House
Where I’ll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I’ll be a law.
How I hope and pray that he will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: You mean even if the Whole Congress says you
should be a law, the president can still say no?
Bill: Yes, that’s called a veto. If the president vetoes
me, I have to go back to Congress and they vote
on me again, and by that time you’re so old…
Boy: By that time it’s very unlikely that you’ll become
a law. It’s not easy to become a law, is it?
Bill: No!

But how I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Congressman: He signed you, Bill!
Now you’re a law!
Bill: Oh yes!!!

OK, so what does this all mean? It means that the process involves introducing the Bill into one House of Congress (in this case, the Senate). It then gets referred to a committee where they can hold hearings, change the bill, and ultimately decide whether to send it to the whole Senate or kill it. If the whole Senate passes, then it will go to the House of Representatives where the whole process has to start over again. Once it passes both houses, then they have to hold a conference to fix any differences between the two bills. Once they finally agree, then it goes to the President for signature and passage into a law.

Whew, that sound like a loooong process, doesn’t it? And here we are at the very beginning. The law has been introduced and is ready to be referred to committee. In other words, looking at the Schoolhouse Rock song again, we are in the third verse.

And anyone who thinks this will become a law should remember a few things: there is an election coming up, all bills must be passed by the time the Senate adjourns in December 2009 (technically January 2009), and there is a war on right now. In other words, these and other significant issues are all facing the Senate right now (and that does not even take into consideration the controversy with the Attorney General). So, I predict this bill is a whole lot of publicity which will never see the light of day. Call me when it passes the Senate and maybe I will feign interest.

(via Geekzone and PocketPC Thoughts)

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  1. #1 by pedah on September 10, 2007 - 7:19 am

    SO cynical, don’t you think these guys are into looking after the interests of the mobile consumer? I think that was a rhetorical question LOL

  2. #2 by dgoldring on September 10, 2007 - 8:31 am

    Yeah, call my the cynic. I have been around the legislative process enough to know how these things usually go. I would be shocked if this ever made it out of committee, let alone over to the House. But then again, I could be wrong.

    Some of it seems like a nice idea, other parts legislate things that have already been the common practice. So, we’ll watch and see what happens.

    Doug

  3. #3 by Validas Admin on September 10, 2007 - 11:33 am

    We are looking out for the mobile consumer as well, but instead of a bill, we created a tool. Go check us out at http://www.myvalidas.com.

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