Markey Floats Wireless Bill of Rights

Proposed legislation aims for greater service plan transparency and a 30-day opt out period. 

Under a proposed bill by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, wireless carriers would be required to disclose in clear, plain and conspicuous language the terms of service contracts and communities would be free to provide their own wireless services.

As part of the Massachusetts Democrat's plan, carriers would be forced to disclose any early termination fees and terms of any equipment subsidization plans, along with the duration of trial plans and monthly charges, per-minute charges, roaming charges and charges for additional minutes not included in a consumer's contract.

Markey's draft bill would also require each commercial mobile service provider to offer a wireless service plan for which there is no early termination fee and allow consumers to cancel service contracts within 30 days of subscribing.

In addition, for consumers with early termination fees in their contracts, the legislation would require carriers to prorate the fee over the remaining duration of the service plan.

The bill would also bar state governments from prohibiting any community from creating its own communications service.

"If a particular community is unhappy with the wireless, broadband, cable or phone services offered in its area, it should possess the clear freedom under the law to take action on its own to deploy and offer such services," Markey said at a Feb. 27 hearing. "I believe ... it is ... important to establish that municipalities can take action to offer wireless service on their own, or any other communications service for that matter."

Markey, chairman of the House Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, said he hasn't formally introduced the legislation-known as the Wireless Consumer Protection and Community Broadband Empowerment Act of 2008-in order to seek public comment from all stakeholders.

The draft bill is similar to Senate legislation introduced in a September call for a wide range of new carrier policies, including "simple, clear information" on their services and charges, a 30-day window in which to exit a contract without early termination fees, and greater flexibility to exit contracts with services that don't meet a consumer's needs.

"Anyone whose looked at a cell phone bill knows it's a hodge-podge of fees and surcharges that supposedly cover regulatory or administrative costs," Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said in a Sept. 19 statement. "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."

The bill-the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007-also calls for detailed data on coverage areas and dropped calls provided to consumers before committing to a long-term contract and seeks a Federal Communications Commission study of "locking" cell phones to make them exclusive to one carrier.