With so many cell phone carriers promising the best service, how can you really find out who has the most reliable network where you live? Well, according to the Federal Communications Commision (FCC), you’ll have to buy a phone, and try it. In other words, you’ll end up having to sign a long term contract (probably 2 years), activate the phone, then take it home and hope it works to your satisfaction. The biggest carriers generally provide their new customers at least a 30 day period in which they can return the phone, if not happy with the service. But you better make sure (at least until you know for sure the phone works well enough), you keep everything that came with the phone, including the box and all the paperwork. And of course, before even leaving the store with the phone in the first place, get their cancellation policy in writing. Otherwise, you could end up being subjected to termination fees for a phone that didn’t even work in your own living room.
The truth is, the FCC could offer some insight as to which carrier has the least problems, but they won’t! They flat out refuse to make public a database detailing cell phone provider outages. The FCC has been compiling such a database since 2004. This information has been requested by various media outlets under the guidelines of the federal Freedom of Information Act. Yet the FCC, in spite of federal guidelines which permit for the release of such information, insist they can’t release it because it could be used by terrorists to plan and execute an attack on the United States. In addition, going public with these reports could also bring harm to the cell phone companies themselves. So, outside of knowing someone you trust to recommend a particular carrier, who lives, commutes and works with you, you’re going to have to buy a phone to find out how reliable it is. I mean, you might as well walk up and down every street in your town like the Verizon guy, saying, “can you hear me know”!!! And even if everything appears to work great, that test won’t clue you in on a providers periodic network outages.
None of this would matter much, if the bulk of cell phone providers offered service with minimal, to no interruptions in service. And judging by the number of consumer complaints, interruptions in service is a big problem. Presently, complaints about cell phone service nearly top every list of consumer gripes. Only gas prices (not lately), credit card companies, telemarketing issues and home improvement scams topped cell phone complaints in the past 12 months.
At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the FCC agreed the publication of these reports would potentially jeopardize our homeland security efforts. The same outage data, which would be very useful to identify critical weaknesses and make the network infrastructure much stronger, in the wrong hands could be used to exploit the vulnerabilities to undermine and attack the networks, DHS said. According to some terrorist experts, these outage reports would be of little to no value to a terrorist organization. By keeping this information from the public, simply put, amounts to nothing more than corporate competition protection. This explanation by the FCC doesn’t meet the bar set by the Freedom of Information Act according to Al Tompkins, a freedom of information act expert from a think tank at Poynter Institute. He went on to say, that the release of such information would be a “tremendous consumer tool” , and compared them to the on-time airline records released by the Federal Aviation Administration. It seems these days, that more and more information is be withheld from the public, under the justification of a potential national secuity issue.
All consumers who use a cell phone would surely benefit from these cell phone provider outage reports. From the looks of things, we’ll have to learn to live without them, at least for now. Whether you believe these reports fall under the category of a national security issue or not, so long as we’re safe and attack free, I guess we all benefit. As far as a good cell phone provider, it might be a good idea to talk to people you know and see if they are happy with their service. Also, check out Consumer Reports for a non biased review on cell phone carriers. Worst case scenerio, make sure you have a full 30 days to try it out, take it with you everywhere, the drive to work, all the rooms in the house and anywhere at all, you might need the phone. The last thing anybody wants, is to sign a 2 year contract only to find out, you’d rather pay a termination fee than to suffer 2 years of outages.