Makover needed: Cell phone plans

The cellular service world is a prime candidate for a makeover; the limited unlimited plans and the prorating and charging for texts and calls you don't want are two examples of the shell game the companies play with their customers. While some carriers have come a long way in the last few years in clarifying their charges, most still have a long way to go.

For example, Verizon imposed prorating on me earlier this year when I switched from a 1,000-text-message plan to an unlimited one. Even though I was under the limit, the company billed me almost $40 for overages incurred because it had prorated my plan. When a carrier prorates a change you make they basically look at how long you've used the service that month, for example half of the month and then charge you half price and half the allowance you would have had. In my case Verizon cut the 1,000 messages to 500 and the charge to $2.50 but in doing so caused any messages already sent to be billed as overages. To complicate matters, even when you don't get billed in that matter, prorating makes your bill jump up because you are being billed for 1 month and a partial month as well.

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Or consider unlimited plans, which seem akin to a one trip, all you can eat buffet! My friends have horror stories about unexpected charges on supposedly unlimited plans, such as data plans with caps or overage charges on unlimited minutes and texting plans.

Another common complaint lodged against cell phone plans is that users are charged for calls and texts they receive, even if they don't want them. While users can simply choose to avoid a phone call, they have no such option with text messages. Instead, they are charged for the text messages, even spam messages, they receive. It's no wonder subscribers are upset when their cell phone bills contain overages.

Where to start the makeover:

Making over cell phone plans wouldn't require choking off revenue streams for carriers. In fact, if carriers would only give consumers the option to postpone putting changes into effect until the next billing cycle, there would be less confusion and fewer disgruntled customers when that bill is received. Happy customers will stay longer than abused customers, netting companies more money in the long run.

Another way that carriers can make over cell phone plans is to stop offering 'unlimited plans' with 18 exceptions that trigger overage charges. This is another easy fix for carriers to implement.

Perhaps the most significant change that would improve the industry image is to stop charging customers for in-bound calls. This is the way carriers already operate in many other countries. Even though it would likely require a change in overall rate structure, and perhaps reprogramming the systems already in place, it's not impossible. At least one carrier, Centennial Wireless, already offers this exact service, and I would guess that it is drawing many a customer.

What other changes to the cell phone industry do you believe are needed? Add your suggestions in the comments below.

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