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LATECOMER TO CELLPHONE CROWD CLEARS STATIC ON PICKING
PLAN

By DOLORES KONG
01/06/2002
The Boston Globe

After years of refusing to own a cellphone for
financial, lifestyle, and philosophical reasons, I
finally succumbed on New Year's Day and bought my
first.

I've been to US Bankruptcy Court to cover news stories
and seen unpaid cellphone bills among the piles of
debt sending consumers over the financial edge.

I've heard folks answer cellphones in public restrooms
in Boston and seen a carload of people talking, not to
one another but into their individual cells, while at
a red light in Los Angeles.

And I've gone hiking and cross-country skiing to get
away and enjoy nature, only to be rudely interrupted
by the ring of a cellphone.

Just the other day while cross-country skiing in
Jackson, N.H., with sunny skies and a grand view, my
husband and I saw the only other skiier on the
Woodchuck Trail inexplicably stopped in his tracks,
seemingly talking to himself. As we neared, we
discovered he was speaking into his cellphone.

For all these reasons, I have been cellphone free.

But one of the final straws to break my resolve came
several days ago, when I needed to check in with my
editor after I got off the cross-country trail to find
a nearby pay phone I'd used before had been ripped
out.

Apparently, pay phones around the world are
disappearing as a result of cellphone use.

A couple of weeks ago, British Telecom announced plans
to get rid of 12,000 money-losing pay phones in
Britain. It seems the red pay phone booths that have
long been part of the British landscape are going the
way of the dodo.

So on New Year's Day, after deciding a cellphone would
help simplify my rather complicated life, and after
weeks of comparing service plans and packages, I took
the plunge and joined an estimated 123 million
wireless subscribers in the United States.

Being a personal finance reporter, I had to make sure
I got the best deal: I didn't want to be paying more
than I needed to for more minutes than I would use.
With the confusing variety of plans and features out
there, that took some doing.

Fortunately, I had a little help from cellphone-savvy
friends to sort through the confusion of plans and
features.

Here are some of the financial lessons I've learned
from buying a cellphone and service:

- Check when the "free" nighttime and weekend minutes
are. Some service providers, including Cingular
Wireless, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint PCS, have now
pushed back the free weeknight period to 9 p.m. and
later for new customers. Any calls made before then
would count against your limit of anytime minutes.
Going above that limit for the month can get
expensive. Some plans, such as VoiceStream, do not
include free weeknights, only free weekends and paid
anytime minutes. The service I ended up with, AT&T
Wireless, offers free weeknight minutes beginning at 8
p.m., as well as free weekends.

- Look for group discounts or special promotions.
Check with your employer or any associations to which
you belong to see whether a discount is available.
Also check any promotions being offered by cellphone
retailers or the wireless service company. The service
I signed up with is running its specials until Jan.
26. With some promotions you may even get a free
cellphone or accessories.

- Keep an eye on deals even if you're already a
customer. A friend who's already an AT&T Wireless
customer was able to sign up for one of the promotions
I told her about. As a result, she's getting unlimited
nights and weekends, 400 anytime minutes, and free
nationwide long distance at $39.99 a month.

- Comparison shop. Do it the old-fashioned way like I
did, by clipping newspaper ads for comparison. Or do
it the high-tech way, on the Internet. Web sites for
the individual wireless service providers, such as
ATTWireless .com, Cingular.com, Nextel.com,
Sprint.com, VerizonWireless.com, and VoiceStream.com,
are worth checking. These comparison sites are also
helpful: LetsTalk.com, WirelessAdvisor.com, Point.com,
Simplexity.com, GetConnected.com, PricingCentral.com,
Lower MyBills.com, and MyRatePlan.com.

- Periodically analyze your phone usage to keep costs
in line. If you find yourself using more paid anytime
minutes than your plan allows and paying hefty
per-minute charges as a result, you should consider
upgrading to more anytime minutes. If you stay with
the same provider, you usually don't have to pay
penalties for getting out of the old, more limited
plan. And if you find yourself paying for more minutes
than you actually use, you might want to consider
getting a lower-priced plan with fewer minutes.

- Know the details of your plan. For instance, know
where your home calling area is to avoid unnecessary
roaming charges. Some parts of New Hampshire,
especially in ski country, may not be part of the home
calling area for some Boston-based plans, while other
parts of the Granite State are.

Finally, the most radical thing may be to get rid of
your land phone line at home and use only your cell,
as some folks are doing. Some long-distance telephone
companies are raising their rates, making a land line
more expensive. I've considered getting rid of my home
phone, but because I still use old-fashioned dial-up
service for my Internet access, I'm locked in to that
old technology for now.

Enron apology

Having a personal finance magazine say it's sorry for
a bad stock recommendation is as rare as hearing a
Wall Street analyst say "sell."

But Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine is issuing
such a mea culpa in its February 2002 issue, for
having called Enron one of its "bright ideas" as
recently as last summer.

Enron, the once high-flying energy-trading firm that
sank like a stone with the biggest bankruptcy filing
in US history late last year, has been touted by the
likes of Fortune, Kiplinger's, and Money magazines.

It's refreshing to see Kiplinger's admit the error of
its ways in its latest issue, under the headline, "A
Balloon Pops: Like most of Wall Street, we were wrong
about Enron."