Verizon Is Taking My Phone Away Because It Doesn't Have GPS?

Reader George writes in with a question:

Hello Ms. Marco,

I had an interesting experience with Verizon Wireless today…I was having trouble paying my bill using my cell phone, so I called them via land line. I paid my bill and I thought all was well…but I was forwarded to a Customer Service representative who informed me that I was going to be shut down…Apparently my Kyrocera 2135, which is several years old but still quite functional, must be discarded because it doesn’t meet the new FCC rules for having GPS built in it. My normal contract with them expired years ago and I have been on a month-to-month plan…

I was aware of a new law regarding GPS, but I didn’t realize that it was fully in effect yet.
In fact, a quick look at Verizon Wireless online doesn’t indicate that all of the many, many phones they sell are complying with this requirement. A check of the FCC website yielded no assistance.

I told the CS rep that I thought he was trying to sell me a new phone and two year contract…naturally he denied this repeatedly…they will hold my phone number until the end of the month…if I don’t get a new phone and a new contract, I will remain cell-less.

Does any of this make any sense to you all???

Many Thanks,
Washington, DC

Time for a bedtime story. Forgive us if it’s a little boring, after all—it’s about cellphones and policy and government agencies. Not very exciting stuff, but it will help you to understand why Verizon is being a hardass about your phone.

You see, once upon a time, way back in the early ’00s, cellphones were not very good at locating people who were unable to tell the 911 operator where they were.

This is quite obviously a huge problem because the entire point of 911 is that the operator can locate you if you are in awful trouble and can’t speak. In a perfect world, you could always just call the hospital and order an ambulance for yourself. Then you could file your toenails and watch the Price is Right and wait for them to show up. But life isn’t perfect, and sometimes you need 911 to be able to locate you without your help.

The FCC decided to do something about this problem. They gave the cellphone operators a choice. Either they could come up with a network based solution or a handset based solution.

Your provider, Verizon, chose a handset based solution. They were given a deadline of December 31, 2005. By that date, Verizon was required to convert 95% of its users to the handset solution, GPS. They missed this deadline. Why? Because users didn’t want to upgrade their phones. The FCC gave them more time.

By May 26, 2006 Verizon had become the first carrier to convert 95% of their users to GPS.

You, George, represent part of the 5% that they failed to convert. In a statement announcing their success, Verizon discussed their conversion technique:

“For the past several years, Verizon Wireless worked diligently to educate customers about the safety benefits of GPS-capable handsets; offered customers competitive and affordable choices among those handsets; provided detailed information on its Web site about the benefits of upgrading to GPS-capable handsets, including a Web-based look-up tool for customers to confirm their handset’s Wireless Phase II E911 capability; and stopped activating or re-activating non-GPS handsets on the Verizon Wireless network.”

Sadly for you, George, the FCC hasn’t forgotten about the 911 issue. In fact, they’re currently threatening to impose fines totaling $2.8 million dollars on companies who, unlike Verizon, failed to meet the 95% requirement.

The FCC is also getting really, really upset about the e911 program’s continued lack of effectiveness at locating people who need it. Network based solutions, for example, don’t work very well outside of cities because they use cellphone tower triangulation to locate users. The fewer cellphone towers, the wider the search area. In addition, it’s difficult to ensure that rural areas are getting the coverage they need because the methods that cellphone companies use to report their 911 successes and failures don’t provide specific enough data.

But this is probably boring you. You’re like, “That it should come to this! I just want to stay on my same phone with my same plan.” Well, you’re probably not going to be able to. The good news is that you’re out of contract and can take advantage of all of our awesome cellphone shopping tips. You may well end up with a better deal than the one you have now, and if you fall off your motorcycle in the middle of nowhere and are bleeding to death—you’ll have a much better chance of being found before you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Not the answer you were looking for, we know, but we do hope it helps.


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