September 13, 2010 - 4:17 pm
By Keyla Hernandez-Ulloa | Associate Chief, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division

On September 9, 2010, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Shirley Rooker, Director and Consumer Reporter for the 'Call For Action' program, at the WTOP studios. The segment aired on WFED (1500 AM) on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:30pm but if you missed it you can listen to the segment on the left side of their website under Of Consuming Interest. The interview was a great forum to provide an overview of and consumer tips on Lifeline Link-Up, bill shock and early termination fees.

The first topic discussed was Lifeline Link-Up. For eligible consumers, Lifeline provides a monthly discount on basic local telephone service. Some consumers may also be eligible for Link-up - a one-time assistance that pays for part of the consumer's connection or activation charge for new phone service. Consumers might not be aware that they qualify for this assistance. Since eligibility requirements for these programs vary by state, consumers should contact their local telephone service provider or public utilities company for more information on these requirements. A consumer can always visit or call 1-888-CALL FCC for assistance.

Next, we discussed bill shock – the result of a sudden, unexpected increase in monthly mobile service bills. Bill shock can occur because of misunderstood advertising, unanticipated roaming, or data charges. Among the tips I provided are:

  • Understand your calling pattern. By discussing your pattern with your service provider, the carrier may be able to provide a plan that meets your needs.
  • Consider a prepaid phone if you have a low usage pattern of calls.
  • Understand your roaming charges and confirm that your phone's screen indicates when you are roaming.

The last topic covered was early termination fees (ETF). We discussed ways to avoid ETF:

  • Before signing the contract for a new service, ask the salesperson what the ETF will be and/or how it is prorated.
  • Consider purchasing the handset device at full price.
  • Ask for a trial period that allows cancelling the service without any penalties and/or ETF.

As the show was ending, we briefly touched upon tips for getting the broadband speed you need (ask about the contract and fees) and the various ways consumers can file an informal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

I enjoyed this opportunity to raise awareness on these topics and share the FCC's tips that help empower consumers.