April 24, 2008

It takes the Senate to break that cell phone contract

If there's anybody out there wondering why Americans have so little faith in their government, or in the legislators we elect to serve us, or in the commonsense of businesses we depend upon for basic goods and services, here's some more ammunition, courtesy U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI.

It involves an issue so trivial -- with a solution so obvious -- that the mind boggles that it has taken two years to wend its way through the Senate.

The news from Feingold is this: The Senate has just passed a bill which allows service members deployed overseas to terminate cell phone contracts without having to pay termination or reactivation fees. Get it? They volunteer to risk their lives for us, and yet it takes an act of Congress to get them out of a cell phone contract without penalty!

It took two years to make this happen. (Well, to be honest, it hasn't really happened yet; it still has to pass the House and be signed into law.) Feingold introduced the measure in 2006 after hearing of Wisconsin soldiers being forced to pay early termination fees -- or continue paying for cell phone service they cannot use while overseas. The Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act, which included language based on Feingold’s Servicemembers’ Cellular Phone Contract Fairness Act, will also expand rights that service members currently have to terminate similar contracts like residential and automobile leases without penalty.

Two years ago, 1st Lt. Melissa Inlow of the Wisconsin Army National Guard testified at a hearing in Madison: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get cell phone service providers to suspend the contract,” she said. “Even with suspension the soldiers are still paying up to $25 a month for a service they cannot reap the benefits of. These fees can accumulate to more than the termination fee which on average is $200.”

Said Feingold today: “I am pleased the Senate acted to ease the financial burden on our service members by helping them avoid cell phone contract fees when they are called upon to serve their country. Our brave men and women in uniform, along with their families, can face difficult financial challenges when they are serving far from home. We should make every effort to make things easier for our military families during times when they are already under enough strain.”

Two years... and counting.

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