Communications and Media

Technology Comes with Many Hidden Fees

Technology is great. We can connect with friends, family and business associates in a split second. We can i-chat, Skype, text, e-mail, fax and instant message with a laptop anywhere wi-fi is available. There are so many service providers and plans to choose from, it's difficult to compare prices and find the best deal. One sounds better than the next, so how do you choose?

Review the Fine Print

An important factor to consider when shopping around for the best prices for telephone, cell phone and internet service is that hidden fees could turn that really great deal into a money pit. That unlimited calling plan for $50 may indeed allow you to call local, regional and long distance without limitation. However, the taxes, fees and surcharges that are added on will boost your monthly bill well above the advertised rate.

When service providers advertise their flat rate plans, they don't include these extra costs, misleading potential customers. Consumer protection groups want the companies to include all of the extra fees and surcharges in the advertised rates so the consumer can make a more informed choice. Service providers defend their practices, arguing that itemizing the fees separately makes the bill easier to understand for the consumer.

Cell Phone Plans

When shopping for a cell phone plan, in addition to taxes and various surcharges, ask whether you'll be charged for any of the following:

  • Activation fees
  • Directory assistance charges
  • Text messages
  • Roaming charges
  • Download charges for applications, ringtones and accessories
  • Overlimit charges

Unfortunately, you could be charged for unsolicited e-mails, text messages and pictures. And, if you find a better plan elsewhere, you may incur an early termination fee, which can be very costly.

Bundled Services

Many service providers are now offering television, telephone and internet service all bundled into one very attractive rate plan. However, any variation from what is included in the bundle will increase your bill, such as adding an additional television set or phone line, or upgrading your cable or satellite box to include DVR capability. Also, if you try to cancel your plan, you may be hit with a hefty cancellation fee.

Before You Leave the Country

If you are heading out of the country, you have to be especially vigilant. One woman who used her iPhone in Europe ended up with a $5,000 bill from AT&T without making a single phone call. Unknown to her, the data plan didn't cover her when she was out of the country, so she amassed the charges by sending photos, watching YouTube, surfing the internet and checking her e-mail.

Buyer Beware

If a plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so make sure you check the fine print in the terms and conditions portion of your contract. If you don't understand something, don't hesitate to ask questions before making an expensive commitment.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I've received a 5-figure bill for cell phone services, including fees for texting. I don't think the charges for the services were fairly described in my contract or by the provider's customer service representative when I signed up. Can you review my contract and the bill?
  • Are there any class action lawsuits against my cell phone provider by customers disputing fees and contract terms?
  • Are there any consumer protection laws that cover cell phone services, as there are for credit card accounts?
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