Sprint Agrees To Alter Misleading Ads

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with a national wireless phone carrier to change its "nationwide network" advertisements for its digital service.

Sprint Spectrum, doing business as Sprint Personal Communications Services (PCS), settled allegations of false advertising and deceptive practices concerning representations regarding its "nationwide network" for wireless digital phone service and its claims of "free" long distance service.

"As wireless phone services have become increasingly competitive, so, too, have the marketing claims aimed at attracting customers," Spitzer said. "This has led to a heightened need for vigilant oversight and aggressive enforcement to ensure that consumers are provided with the most comprehensive and accurate information."

Spitzer's office had raised concerns that an advertising campaign begun in 1998 regarding Sprint PCS's "nationwide network" gave the false impression that its digital network had the same geographic availability as land-line or analog cellular phones. This misconception then was compounded in some advertisements that showed a cartoon depiction of a United States map reinforcing the impression that the digital service was available in areas where it was not.

For example, when Sprint PCS first began its promotional campaign, service was available in many parts of metropolitan New York City. Other areas, however, including parts of both eastern Long Island and Westchester County and all of Staten Island, where these same phones were likely to be used, did not have service. Service also was unavailable in many major cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Houston, Tampa, and Orlando at that time.

Sprint PCS has agreed to alter advertising claims regarding its "nationwide network" to clearly disclose limitations of the geographic reach of its network. It also agreed to clearly disclose in its offers for "free long distance" that roaming charges and other fees may be imposed if users make or receive calls outside the network area.

Also, Sprint PCS agreed to more clearly disclose any limitations, conditions or restrictions on advertised offers.

In settling the case, Sprint PCS agreed to pay $100,000 to cover the costs of the investigation. Spitzer's office has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about wireless communications. In an effort to educate consumers to make better choices for wireless services, Spitzer provided the following tips:

  • Carefully evaluate your personal phone calling habits prior to shopping for a wireless phone deal;
  • Examine each plan's "home calling area" because it may not necessarily mirror local service plans for regular landline phones;
  • Inquire into all fees - some plans contain charges for "air time, roaming, and universal service funds." Also remember that taxes are associated with wireless services;
  • Make sure to inquire into charges and fees for additional minutes beyond the number included in your plan and for minutes dialed outside the plan's service area;
  • Inquire about " dead zones" where gaps in service could result in dropped calls or no availability;
  • Ask about charges for dialing 800 numbers and directory assistance;
  • Keep in mind that you won't save your "free air time" or plan minutes by having people call you - wireless phone carriers charge for making and receiving calls; and
  • Consider carefully any long term contracts that could lock you into a commitment before you have had an opportunity to assess service quality.

Individuals with complaints about their wireless phone service are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Jane M. Azia and Shari Rubin Brooks of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.