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May 13, 2004 - 11:00 AM

Donít Fumble Cell Phone Consumer Rights

by Douglas Heller
 
Arnold has been asked to intervene on behalf of the telecommunications industry to block a much anticipated and long-awaited cell phone consumers bill of rights that is in its final stage at the Public Utilities Commission this month. Arnold, who has received more than $100K from the cell phone industry including $5K this week from Verizon, was pressed by none other than Steve Largent, president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

Largent -- the Pro Football Superstar turned Congressman turned lobbyist -- and the cell phone firms are hoping that the Gov. will strong-arm utility commissioners into watering down cell phone consumer protections. ArnoldWatch tipsters report that Arnold will use his upcoming appointments to the Commission and the prospect of overturning the telecommunications reforms altogether as a tool to push the current commissioners into getting rid of the strongest protections in the proposal.

To date Arnold has chosen industry positions over consumer protections at every opportunity. He says that he has to prioritize business interests for fear that companies will leave the state. But does anyone believe that the wireless companies will stop offering cellular service if we require them to play fair and send 'em back twenty yards when they commit a penalty? Arnold should weigh in on behalf of consumers on this one to give Californians a shot when they have to fight the Cell Phone Giants.

We know that phone companies have already put $100K on the line for this one, and they could spend much more to influence Arnold during this critical month. The Orange County Register reports that Arnold will spend this month fundraising on behalf of Republicans in tight legislative races, but we won't know where the money is coming from for months. If Arnold wants to avoid a yellow flag, he should disclose the donors at those events voluntarily. These fundraisers need to be watched closely as they could be ways for the telecommunications firms to quietly help Arnold, by funding his candidates, just as the industry calls on Arnold to hold the line against consumer protections. The cell firms know that if Arnold gets into the game to block for them, it would be a telecom touchdown.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, is asking Californians to contact the governor and ask him to push for consumer rights. To read more about this and to take action, visit: http://cu.convio.net/ftcr

If you have had had problems with your cell phone carrier, let us know by filling out the consumer complaint form at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/ftcr/complaint.php3. Our Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has been tracking consumer problems with cell phone companies and we have filed suit against some companies regarding their quality of service, excessive fees, and the confusing billing practices that make it impossible to find errors.




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