Mad as #$*@ at Your Cell-Phone Contract?


Mad as #$*@ at Your Cell-Phone Contract?

Wireless customers are due for a break on high fees for early termination.

Apple's iPhone caused a furor when it debuted this past summer -- and we're not talking about the cool technology or the eye-popping price tag. The phone, which can be used only on AT&T's calling plan, is also a glaring reminder of what cell-phone users hate most about wireless: They can't get out of their contract without paying through the nose -- typically $175 to $200, sometimes per family member -- or take their phone to another network. Restrictive arbitration agreements usually mean they can't even complain to a judge.

That's about to change. "Things are heating up big-time -- at the Federal Communications Commission, in the courts and in Congress," says Chris Murray, a telecom expert at Consumers Union. Courts in California have refused to enforce arbitration clauses that block class- action lawsuits or sanction early-termination fees. An FCC auction of a coveted spectrum of the airwaves in January could further spread mobile delivery of e-mail, music, navigation and other features. A bill in Congress would give consumers 30 days to exit contracts without a fee and would require companies to prorate early-termination fees (Verizon does that already) for customers who leave afterward.

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Meanwhile, the best way to wiggle out of your contract is to trade it online. Try or Read the notices you get in the mail -- if a contract change is not in your favor, you may have a couple of weeks to opt out without a charge.