Cellphone portability: Should you switch?


Should you stay with your current wireless provider or switch to another? The following is a guide to help you decide:

What happens Monday November 24th is officially called local number portability. For the first time, you can take your existing number to a new carrier, as long as your new carrier serves the same area and you aren't moving to a new region. For example, someone in Boston could drop Verizon phone service at home but use the same phone number with a Sprint wireless phone.

Who can switch?

Anyone with a phone in the top 100 metro areas in the U.S. can begin switching Monday, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Those living outside the 100 top metro areas will get an opportunity to switch by May 24, 2004.

Should I drop my home line and go totally wireless?

Seven million consumers use wireless exclusively, according to Management Network Group, a communications consulting firm based in Overland, Kan. and the number grows every year. There is the obvious mobility advantage. And long-distance calls can be cheaper for wireless than through land-line pricing plans.

But the reliability of wireless is not as consistent as that of land lines. Also, if you use your land line for DSL or Internet, you would lose that service by going totally wireless.

In an emergency, cell phones may be less reliable. Land lines help 911 operators pinpoint your location. With a wireless phone, you will have to communicate that information verbally.

If I switch, should I do it Monday?

There is no compelling reason to make the jump Monday, unless you want to make a statement on how unhappy you are with your current service. The longer you wait, the more deals there may be on the market. "Patience and information are key things," said Mark Pitchford, a Qwest senior vice president of consumer marketing.

Be aware of potential fees if you are switching your home number to a wireless phone. And if you're moving your wireless phone number to another wireless carrier before your current contract expires, you may get smacked with anywhere from a $50 to a $200 penalty.

What kind of pricing can I expect?

Shop around. Most analysts suggest visiting a retail store of a wireless carrier to get a feel of a new phone and new plans. There are many details that can make the jump too pricey. Ask as much as you can about pricing plans, long-distance fees, any additional charges for caller ID, voice mail and long distance, etc.

Ask friends how often they experience dropped calls or run into dead zones with their current wireless carriers.
Be prepared to haggle or walk away from a deal if necessary, consumer advocates advise.

"Even if you don't want to switch, you should call your current (wireless) carrier and ask for the latest deal and a cool phone," said Delly Tamer, president and chief executive officer of LetsTalk, an online wireless comparison service based in San Francisco.

Who handles the switch?

Don't cancel your old service before getting the new service because you could lose your number. Your new carrier will start the process.

You can start the switch at least four ways: Go to a retail store; call your new carrier's customer-service number; apply online at the carrier's Web site; or work through a third-party online vendor.

Whatever way you choose, have your recent phone bill and account number available. That will reduce the chance of future billing errors.

How long will the switch take?

The actual switch is supposed to take two and one-half hours or less to move your current cell phone to a new wireless carrier -- but it's anyone's guess.

It may take several business days to switch your land line to a new cell phone. You are supposed to be able to use your old phone during the switch.

Most carriers have hired hundreds of new personnel in preparation for inquiries and switchovers.

Can I keep my old cell phone if I switch carriers?

No. Expect to buy or get a new one. There will be exceptions but not many. Depending on the carrier, you may be able to switch the stored numbers from your existing phone to your new one. Listen to all your old voice mails before jumping -- they won't survive.

If I switch, then become unhappy with my new carrier, can I switch back and keep the same phone number?

Yes. But be prepared to face fees for the back-and-forth switch.



Protecting Your Kids Online

Whatever it’s called, millions of people are now going online to exchange electronic mail, surf the World Wide Web, post and read messages in newsgroups (sometimes called bulletin boards), and participate in chat groups and many other online activities.

Anyone in the world — companies, governments, organizations, and individuals — can publish material on the Internet. An ISP links you to these sites, but it can’t control what is on them. It’s up to individuals to make sure that they behave in a way that’s safe and appropriate.

Most people who go online have mainly positive experiences. But, like any endeavor — traveling, cooking, or attending school — there are some risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative. Children get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships it brings, children need parental supervision and common-sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in "cyberspace" are happy, healthy, and productive.

Putting the Issue in Perspective

Although there have been some highly publicized cases of abuse involving the Internet and online services, reported cases are relatively infrequent. Of course, like most crimes against children, many cases go unreported, especially if the child is engaged in an activity that he or she does not want to discuss with a parent.
The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these services would be like telling them to forgo attending school because students are sometimes victimized there.

A better strategy would be to instruct children about both the benefits and dangers of cyberspace and for them to learn how to be "street smart" in order to better safeguard themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.

What are the Risks?

Exposure to Inappropriate Material - One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature, or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal.

Physical Molestation - Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used E-mail, bulletin boards, and chat areas to gain a child’s confidence and then arrange s face-to-face meeting.

Harassment - A third risk is that a child might encounter E-mail or chat/bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.

Legal and Financial - There is also the risk that a child could do something that has negative legal or financial consequences such as giving out a parent’s credit card number or doing something that violates another person’s rights. Legal issues aside, children should be taught good "netiquette" which means to avoid being rude, mean, or inconsiderate.

Guidelines for Parents

By taking responsibility for your children’s online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to

  • Never give out identifying information — home address, school name, or telephone number — in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards (newsgroup), and be sure you’re dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving out this information via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Do not post photographs of your children on web sites or newsgroups that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child’s name and E-mail address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
  • Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar with all the things that you can do online.
  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
  • Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in E-mail from persons they don’t know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate web sites.
  • If someone sends you or your children messages or images that are obscene, lewd, filthy, or indecent with the intent to harass, abuse, annoy, or threaten, or if you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678 or www.missingkids.com/cybertip.
  • Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
  • Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s "too good to be true" probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve you coming to a meeting, having someone visit your house, or sending money or credit card information.
  • Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see "My Rule for Online Safety" on the backcover). Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
  • Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings.
  • Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their "online friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.


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