Wireless users seeing red

Cell phones usage is exploding -- faster than the available number of lines.

Wireless phones are the hottest single consumer product since the car. In fact, there are now 85 million pocket phones in America. Yet there is still a failure to communicate. The problem is that the overwhelming popularity of these new phones is making it hard to find an open line in major cities.

"I get dropped every second. And people are saying 'What? What? What?'" says Zalmi Duchman, who pays $150 a month for what he calls 30 days of frustration. "I've screamed so loud in my car, you have no idea."

In New York, customers have even filed a class action suit. It charges that AT&T fails to provide promised service.

"There's a huge billboard that says 'This may be the only phone you'll ever need.' I couldn't even use the phone on my block," says Bill Porfido, who lives in New York City. Porfido says he's lost business because his clients can't reach him. "They're asking you for instant gratification. They want an answer now. They don't want to be disconnected."

AT&T refused an on-camera interview but told NBC News it is working on the problem, spending twice as much this year on new equipment.

Cell phone companies say they are victims of their own success. AT&T's marketing plan, called One-Rate, allows users to call anywhere in the country, anytime, for a flat rate, and is a customer magnet.

Cell phones are no longer a luxury for the few. There were 340,000 cell phones in 1985, and the number climbed steadily through the 1990s. Then there was a wireless explosion in 1998 (the beginning of One-Rate service) that is expected to bring to 85 million the projected subscribers by the end of the year.

Ed and Karie Nelson, who live in Kansas City, Missouri, don't use their home phone anymore, just their cell phones - paying $270 each month for One Rate service - business calls, long distance, everything.

"I always have my phone with me," says Mr. Nelson. "It's a huge advantage for me just to have one phone number."

Double the problems?
Cell phone use is projected to double in the next ten years, but already there's a technology backlash. Restaurants, theaters and churches are all banning their use.

"We find that most people talk very loudly on the phone as if the phone were deaf. So the shouting becomes a problem," says restaurant owner Patty Peck.

And experts say wireless is making America a ruder society.

"When you have a cell phone on and you're with another person, your attention has to be divided," says James Katz, who studies the behavior of cell phone users at Rutgers University.

So, it seems that as America learns about the wonders of living wire-free, it's also the discovering the rigors of trying to live stress-free.


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