CTIA and the wireless carriers that are signatories to the "Consumer Code for Wireless Service" have made a voluntary commitment to help consumers make informed choices when selecting their wireless service.
Originally developed in 2003, CTIA periodically reviews the Code to ensure it reflects the industry's innovations and consumers' needs and expectations. The Code's signatories have adopted the principles, disclosures and practices for wireless service, including voice, messaging and data services for postpaid or prepaid consumers. In July 2010, the Code was updated to reflect new and increasingly popular offerings by carriers for consumers. The 11th point to the Code was added in October 2011, which called for providers to send postpaid customers with free usage alerts to help them avoid unexpected overage charges. Announced in December 2013, the Code has a section on Mobile Wireless Device Unlocking, which includes voluntary standards to assist consumers by enhancing transparency and disclosure of wireless providers' device unlocking policies.
The signatories to the Code have committed to adhere to the following 12 points:
- Disclose Rates and Terms of Service to Consumers
For each service plan offered to new consumers, wireless carriers will disclose to consumers at point of sale and on their web sites, at least the following information, as applicable: (a) the coverage area for the service; (b) any activation or initiation fee; (c) the monthly access fee or base charge; (d) the amount and nature of any voice, messaging, or data allowances included in the plan (such as night and weekend minutes); (e) the charges for domestic usage in excess of any included allowances or outside of the coverage area; (f) for prepaid service plans, the period of time during which any balance is available for use; (g) whether there are prohibitions on data service usage and whether there are network management practices that will have a material impact on the customer's wireless data experience; (h) whether any additional taxes, fees or surcharges apply; (i) the amount or range of any such fees or surcharges that are collected and retained by the carrier; (j) the amount or nature of any late payment fee; (k) whether a fixed-term contract is required and its duration; (l) the amount and nature of any early termination fee that may apply; and (m) the trial period during which a consumer may cancel service without any early termination fee, as long as the consumer complies with any applicable return policy.
- Make Available Maps Showing Where Service is Generally Available
Wireless carriers will make available at point of sale and on their web sites maps depicting approximate domestic coverage applicable to each of their service plans currently offered to consumers. To enable consumers to make comparisons among carriers, these maps will be generated using generally accepted methodologies and standards to depict the carrier's outdoor coverage. All such maps will contain or link to an appropriate legend concerning limitations and/or variations in wireless coverage and map usage, including any geographic limitations on the availability of any services included in the plan. Wireless carriers will periodically update such maps as necessary to keep them reasonably current. If necessary to show the extent of service coverage available to customers from carriers' roaming partners, carriers will request and incorporate coverage maps from roaming partners that are generated using similar industry-accepted criteria, or if such information is not available, incorporate publicly available information regarding roaming partners' coverage areas.
- Provide Contract Terms to Customers and Confirm Changes in Service
When a customer initiates new service or a change in existing service, the carrier will provide or confirm any new material terms and conditions of the ongoing service with the customer.
- Allow a Trial Period for New Service
When a customer initiates postpaid service with a wireless carrier, the customer will be informed of and given a period of not less than 14 days to try out the service. The carrier will not impose an early termination fee if the customer cancels service within this period, provided that the customer complies with applicable return and/or exchange policies. Other charges, including usage charges, may still apply.
- Provide Specific Disclosure in Advertising
In advertising of prices for wireless service plans or devices, wireless carriers will disclose material charges and conditions related to the advertised prices and services, including if applicable and to the extent the advertising medium reasonably allows: (a) whether activation or initiation fees apply; (b) monthly access fees or base charges; (c) the amount and nature of any voice, messaging, or data service allowances included in the plan; (d) the charges for any domestic usage in excess of any included allowances or outside of the coverage area; (e) for prepaid service plans, the period of time during which any balance is available for use; (f) whether there are network management practices that will have a material impact on the customer's wireless data experience; (g) whether any additional taxes, fees or surcharges apply; (h) the amount or range of any such fees or surcharges that are collected and retained by the carrier; (i) whether a fixed-term contract is required and its duration; (j) early termination fees; (k) the terms and conditions related to receiving a product or service for "free;" (l) for any service plan advertised as "nationwide," (or using similar terms), the carrier will have available substantiation for this claim; and (i) whether prices or benefits apply only for a limited time or promotional period and, if so, whether any different fees or charges will apply for the remainder of the contract term.
- Separately Identify Carrier Charges from Taxes on Billing Statements
On customers' bills, carriers will distinguish (a) monthly charges for service and features, and other charges collected and retained by the carrier, from (b) taxes, fees and other charges collected by the carrier and remitted to federal state or local governments. Carriers will not label cost recovery fees or charges as taxes.
- Provide Customers the Right to Terminate Service for Changes to Contract Terms
Carriers will not modify the material terms of their postpaid customers' contracts in a manner that is materially adverse to those customers without providing a reasonable advance notice of a proposed modification and allowing those customers a time period of not less than 14 days to cancel their contracts with no early termination fee.
- Provide Ready Access to Customer Service
Customers will be provided a toll-free telephone number to access a carrier's customer service during normal business hours. Customer service contact information will be provided to customers online and on billing statements. Each wireless carrier will provide information about how customers can contact the carrier in writing, by toll-free telephone number, via the Internet or otherwise with any inquiries or complaints, and this information will be included, at a minimum, on all billing statements, in written responses to customer inquiries and on carriers' web sites. Each carrier will also make such contact information available, upon request, to any customer calling the carrier's customer service departments.
- Promptly Respond to Consumer Inquires and Complaints Received from Government Agencies
Wireless carriers will respond in writing to state or federal administrative agencies within 30 days of receiving written consumer complaints from any such agency.
- Abide by Policies for Protection of Customer Privacy
- Provide Consumers with Free Notifications for Voice, Data and Messaging Usage, and International Roaming
Each wireless provider will provide, at no charge: (a) a notification to consumers of currently-offered and future domestic wireless plans that include limited data allowances when consumers approach and exceed their allowance for data usage and will incur overage charges; (b) a notification to consumers of currently-offered and future domestic voice and messaging plans that include limited voice and messaging allowances when consumers approach and exceed their allowance for those services and will incur overage charges; and (c) a notification to consumers without an international roaming plan/package whose devices have registered abroad and who may incur charges for international usage. Wireless providers will generate the notifications described above to postpaid consumers based on information available at the time the notification is sent. Wireless consumers will not have to affirmatively sign up in order for these notifications to be sent. Each wireless provider shall provide its customers at least two of these alerts by October 17, 2012 and all of these alerts by April 17, 2013. Wireless providers will clearly and conspicuously disclose tools or services that enable consumers to track, monitor and/or set limits on voice, messaging and data usage.
- Each wireless provider will abide by the following standards regarding the ability of customers, former customers, and individual owners of eligible devices to unlock phones and tablets, (“mobile wireless devices”) that are locked by or at the direction of the carrier. It should be noted that carriers typically use different frequencies and air interface technologies to provide wireless network access. Accordingly, a device that works on one carrier’s network may not be technologically compatible with another carrier’s network. “Unlocking” a device refers only to disabling software that would prevent a consumer from attempting to activate a device designed for one carrier’s network on another carrier’s network, even if that network is technologically compatible. In other words, “unlocking” a device will not necessarily make a device interoperable with other networks-a device designed for one network is not made technologically compatible with another network merely by “unlocking” it. Additionally, unlocking a device may enable some functionality of the device but not all (e.g., an unlocked device may support voice services but not data services when activated on a different network).
Each wireless provider agrees to abide by the following six principles:
(1) Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.
(2) Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee.
(3) Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
(4) Notice. Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/nonformer-customers with a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of policy on the carrier’s website.
(5) Response Time. Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.
(6) Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers.
Carriers reserve the right to decline an unlock request if they have a reasonable basis to believe the request is fraudulent or the device is stolen. Carriers further agree to implement three of the standards articulated above within 3 months from February 11, 2014. Carriers further commit to implement the remainder of the principles within 12 months from February 11, 2014.
The Code's signatories, listed below, cover almost 97 percent of U.S. wireless subscribers. Additional carriers have indicated they will comply with the voluntary code.
Consumer Code: Questions & Answers What Consumer Issues are Covered in the Consumer Code?
The Consumer Code focuses on addressing issues of greatest concern to consumers in selecting and managing their wireless service. For example, signatories will adhere to the Code's 12 points, including commitments to disclose rates, additional taxes, fees, surcharges and terms of service; provide coverage maps; make customer service readily accessible; allow a trial period for new service; provide free usage alerts to avoid unexpected overage charges; and enhance transparency and disclosure of wireless providers' device unlocking policies. Which Wireless Carriers are Committed to the Consumer Code?
The Code has been widely supported by many national, regional and rural wireless carriers including AT&T, Cellcom, CellularOne of NE Arizona, Clearwire, Cricket, Illinois Valley Cellular, Sprint Corp., T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless. The Code's signatories cover almost 97 percent of U.S. wireless subscribers. Additional carriers have indicated they will comply with the voluntary code. What Were the 2010 Updates to the Code?
Some of the changes to the Code include disclosure of data allowances offered in a service plan, whether there are any prohibitions on data service usage and disclosure of whether there are network management practices that will have a material impact on the customer's wireless data experience. The Code also states that prepaid service providers must disclose the period of time during which any prepaid balance is available for use. Will Each Company Implement All 12 Points?
Every wireless carrier that signs the voluntary Consumer Code is committing to adhere to all 12 points. Compliance with the Code is reviewed and recertified on an annual basis. Carriers that comply with the Code receive the Seal of Wireless Quality/Consumer Information, which they can display on the company's website and collateral materials. Why is a 'Voluntary' Code Better for Consumers than Government Regulation?
The Code is designed to give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions regarding their wireless service while still permitting the innovation consumers have come to expect from the wireless industry. Regulations, no matter how well-intentioned, simply cannot be as flexible and responsive to consumer needs as a self-regulatory code. Who Will Enforce the Voluntary Consumer Code?
Wireless carriers must recertify on an annual basis that they are in compliance with the Code. If a provider is found to be non–compliant, the carrier will not be permitted to display the Seal of Wireless Quality/Consumer Information. One of the benefits of competition is that each carrier's competitors will be watching other companies' compliance and will respond accordingly. Is the Industry Adopting this Consumer Code because of Increased Consumer Complaints?
While the wireless industry has experienced fantastic growth in recent years, per capita wireless com-plaints have fallen. In March 2010, the Better Business Bureau stated that 97 percent of consumer concerns are resolved by the wireless industry. In the FCC's consumer survey released in June 2010, they found that, "92 percent of cell phone users are very or somewhat satisfied with their cell phone service overall." Data collected by the FCC shows that the wireless industry receives fewer complaints than many others, including the more regulated wireline industry. Will the Consumer Code Make the Wireless Industry more Competitive?
The Code was designed to help consumers make informed choices when selecting and managing their wireless services in a competitive market. The wireless industry is by far the most competitive sector of telecommunications. When was the Code Last Updated?
Originally developed in 2003, CTIA periodically reviews the Code to ensure it reflects the industry's innovations and consumers' needs and expectations. Announced in December 2013, the Code was updated to enhance transparency and disclosure of device unlocking policies. The 11th point to the Code was added in October 2011, which called
for providers to send postpaid customers with free usage alerts to help
them avoid unexpected overage charges. In July 2010, the Code was updated to reflect new and increasingly popular offerings by carriers for consumers.