CUB: Watch over cellphone bills

CHAMPAIGN — An Illinois consumer watchdog group says Champaign residents are overpaying on their cellphone bills by as much as $9 million per year and more than $1.4 billion statewide.

That's how much consumers are overpaying on their data plans, according to an analysis conducted by the Citizens Utility Board in cooperation with wireless industry research firm Validas. The analysis measured the difference between the data cellphone customers pay for and how much they actually use, and it revealed that Illinoisans overpay by an average of about $194 per year on smartphones and $30 annually on traditional wireless phones.

The problem, said CUB government affairs director Bryan McDaniel, is that cellphone companies do not offer data plans that work for customers. The average cellphone user transfers 800 megabytes of data per month, he said, but most cellphone providers offer plans starting at a 1 gigabyte limit.

"What we really found was these plans are supersized, and we really don't need supersized plans," McDaniel said.

Even the smallest plans — at 1 gigabyte per month — are more than what a lot of customers need, he said. According to Citizens Utility Board, 1 gigabyte of data is enough to send or receive 50,000 emails, stream 33 hours of music, view 1,000 web pages, post 2,800 photos to a Facebook page, or watch more than 8 hours of video on YouTube.

The Citizens Utility Board is directing consumers to fact sheets and shopper's guides on its website, CUBCellphoneSaver.com, so that customers are educated about what they want and need before they go into stores to buy a phone or commit to a plan.

McDaniel said customers on the nation's three biggest networks — Verizon, AT&T or Sprint — can go to Validas' website at Validas.com, where they can find a tool that analyzes their cellphone bills and can tell them where they can save money.

"It's going to take people walking into cellphone stores being educated," McDaniel said.

Citizens Utility Board is also offering tips on how consumers can lower their cellphone bills. Topping that list are using WiFi where available instead of your phone's data network, turning off apps when you are not using them and checking with your cellphone carrier to see if it offers special discounts connected to your workplace.

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