IL bill would make wireless providers responsible for bad handsets

If Rep. Susana Mendoza's cellphone lemon law passes, it will be a coup for Illinois cellphone consumers, but wireless providers oppose it.

If Rep. Susana Mendoza's cellphone lemon law passes, it will be a coup for Illinois cellphone consumers, but wireless providers oppose it. The Chicago Tribune reports that after buying and returning three cellphones from Motorola, Mendoza decided to propose a cellphone lemon law which would allow wireless customers to cancel their contracts without paying early termination fees if a phone must be replaced or repaired at least three times within a contract period.

"I thought something had to be done about this. Then I thought: Wait, I can do something about this," said Mendoza, a Chicago Democrat.

The bill also includes options to upgrade or downgrade phones without extending their service agreements, and companies would have to provide customers with a written statement informing them of their rights.

The proposal, if enacted, would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Although some states are now considering similar legislation and other states have proposed legislation targeting poor service and dropped calls.

Industry advocates argue that wireless companies should not be responsible for manufacturers' mistakes and warn legislators that the law may create an inhospitable environment for companies to operate in.

"This provides a road map for customers to get out of their contracts if all they do is complain aggressively enough," said Mike McDermott, executive director of state public policy for Verizon. "Why not let cable subscribers cancel their contracts if they have bad reception three times in a row? It's a treacherous path."

Motorola does offers a one-year warranty separate from the service agreement. Most wireless providers offer replacement programs for defective merchandise, and there is no need for lawmakers to come between a warranty agreement between consumers and manufacturers, said McDermott.

But Mendoza said that if wireless companies give consumers a quality product, there would be no threat.

"That means providing a working phone and not having to spend time and money replacing it," she said. "If their service is so great, then they won't lose customers. This is not the end of the wireless industry as we know it."