Groups ask operators to cut early termination fees

Responding to a request from several consumer groups to waive early termination fees for people who have lost their jobs, mobile operators said no, although not so succinctly.

On Tuesday, Consumer Action, the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, Media Access Project and the National Consumers League sent to all of the major wireless operators asking them to let people who have been laid off cancel their mobile subscriptions without termination fees. All of the large operators require subscribers to pay, typically on a prorated basis, if they cancel short of the full term of their contract.

Some people may find themselves locked into a service plan they can no longer afford, but they also may find it difficult to pay the termination fee required to cancel the service, the groups said. People who have signed up to family plans, which offer lower rates for multiple phones, have to pay even more, they said.

AT&T and Verizon had a similar response to the proposal. "What we say to customers is, if your situation changes, whether it's economic or otherwise, and you need to look at your wireless options, just give us a call and we can take you through alternatives that might make sense," said Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T.

"So they can get the most from their wireless service and use it when times get tough, Verizon Wireless can provide its customers with options and alternatives if and when their economic situations or wireless service needs change," said Tom Pica, a Verizon Wireless spokesman. "We handle such situations on a case-by-case basis."

However, neither of the carriers offers to waive the early termination fee.