Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate
555 Walnut Street
5th Floor Forum Place
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1923

Phone: 717-783-5048 or toll free 800-684-6560
Fax: 717-783-7152


Consumer Tip for September 2004

What to Think About When Comparing Your Landline Phone to a Wireless Phone
Most consumers have choices for their telephone service today. We have watched service split into local and long distance services, sometimes into a separate bill for each. Long distance service has been competitive for many years. Local service is now competitive in some areas. One type of service that competes with both local and long distance services (landline services) is wireless (or cellular) phone service. Wireless service offers enough benefits for some consumers to drop home telephone service altogether and just use a wireless phone. How would you know if that would be a good choice for you?  Here is a comparison table that you may find helpful. Just make sure you take a good inventory of how you use your telephone service now, so if you do make a change, you still meet all your needs.
Options Land Line Service Wireless Service
Local calls Most consumers opt for unlimited local calling for a flat monthly fee.  There are usually several local calling plans available for landline service:  charge per call, calling with allowance, and unlimited.  “Charge per call” has a low monthly fee, plus it has a flat rate per call (not per minute) and is best for consumers who make less than 35 local calls per month.  “Local calling with allowance” is best for consumers who make between 36 and 75 calls per month. It has a higher monthly fee, but it is not as high as the third option for “unlimited calling”.   It’s not how many calls you make, but how many minutes you talk in a month that matters. Minutes you use for incoming and outgoing calls count as minutes used. When you sign up for service, you will pick a plan for a monthly fee, with a number of calling minutes included. These minutes can include peak and off-peak local and long distance minutes. Peak periods are generally during the daytime. You pay a fairly high flat rate per minute if you go over your monthly limit. Most providers round up any partial minutes used to the next full minute. Many offers include “free” night and weekend minutes…those don’t count as minutes used.
Caller ID, Call Waiting, Voicemail Unless you have a “package” of services, you will pay an extra monthly charge for each of these services. Most plans include these services without any extra charge.
Long Distance You must have a long distance carrier to make calls, or use a pre-paid phone card or calling card, or use dial-around numbers. You may get a separate bill if you have a separate long distance company. Some companies now offer packages of unlimited local and long distance calls. Many plans include long distance minutes in the monthly rate, so there may be no added charge.
Local calling area Usually limited to towns or areas in the local area where you live. A customer’s “home” area could be local, regional or nationwide depending on the chosen service plan. Calls made or received outside of the plan’s home area (known as “roaming”) cost an extra amount per minute. If your home area is nationwide, roaming charges may not apply.
Service period None. You have the service unless or until you change it. Usually one or two year contracts for service are required. There can be penalties for early cancellation of service.
Equipment Only a standard phone and/or answering machine needed. A wireless phone with many feature choices usually includes a rechargeable battery and a battery re-charger. Other options like a plug-in car battery charger, headsets for hands free talking are available. Many plans include voicemail.
Mobility You can only make calls from your phone in and around your home or office. With a wireless phone turned on, you can be reached anywhere wireless towers/service is available. Some remote locations may not have service.
Switching Companies Telephone choice is available for long distance services, and in some places for local service. If you change wireless companies, you most likely will need to get a new wireless phone. Sometimes companies offer large discounts on new phones when beginning a new plan.
Phone Number Portability Due to recent federal legislation, most times when you change service providers, you can take your phone number with you. This is called number portability. You can take a number from one home phone company to another, from a home phone to a wireless phone, from one wireless company to another wireless company and from a wireless company to a home phone company. There are sometimes exceptions, so it is best to check on that before deciding to switch.
Directory Listing Your number will be listed in the phone book unless you specify or pay to have it omitted. There is recent talk about including wireless phone numbers in a phone directory, but no such directories are available now. Because both incoming and outgoing minutes count, you may always want to explore keeping your number private.
Internet Service In most areas, some rural areas can be exceptions, you can use your landline and pay extra for an internet service provider (ISP). An ISP will connect your computer to the internet either through “dial-up” or high speed access. Some wireless phones can connect to the internet and download information. There are usually added charges for these services.
E-911 Service Most emergency operators can see the address from which you are calling. Emergency services cannot see your location in many areas and may not have a call back number; you would have to give it verbally.  Call back numbers and location will be available when a new program of wireless 911 is developed in the future.  This is now available in some areas and with certain wireless phones.
Power outages Most times, your non-portable home phone will still work for at least 4 hours. If the wireless tower does not have power, your wireless phone may not operate. Sometimes, due to storms, your landline may go out and your wireless service may still work.
Line quality You’ll have a clear connection unless there’s a wiring problem or a portable phone is too far from its base. Obstacles and bad weather sometimes hinder call connections.
Costs Add up the costs of your local phone service and long distance services when comparing costs. Right now there are some charges billed to landline service that are not billed to wireless service. Consider all the components of a wireless plan and ask for the total fees and taxes you can expect when you compare costs with landline services.
Who to Call With Complaints and Service Problems If you cannot resolve a problem with your chosen company, you can file a complaint with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) at 1-800-782-1110. The PUC has regulatory authority over landline companies for local and some long distance services. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all other aspects of long distance service. You can reach them at:  1-888-225-5322. If you cannot resolve a problem with your chosen company, you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at:  1-888-225-5322.

If you have any questions or concerns about your utility service, you may also contact the PA Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) at 1-800-684-6560.

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