- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

You finally have tickets to see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and soon, you're transported to a magical world … until the cell phone of the man sitting next to you starts ringing "La Cucaracha."
The days of cell phones ringing in movie theaters may be numbered, if a new etiquette campaign by Cingular Wireless and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp. takes off.
The "Be Sensible" campaign debuted on 1,500 Loews screens Friday, and in more than 160 movie theaters nationwide. The 15-second trailer displays a cell phone as the word "Shhhh" is typed onto the cell phone's screen.
"It's probably one of these nagging nuisances across the country," said John McCauley, vice president of marketing for Loews. "Some people use them all the time and don't realize they may be inconveniencing others."
More than 123 million people in the United States own a cell phone, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. With so many people using cell phones, companies and lawmakers have had to establish rules regarding "proper" cell-phone use.
Box-office windows are decorated with "Be Sensible" decals, and movie tickets will have the slogan printed on them. One hundred movie theaters feature "courtesy zones" where movie patrons can place and receive calls in their lobbies. The zones are in the open, but in a separate carpeted area.
In the District, all 16 Loews movie theaters are taking part in the "Be Sensible" program, with 11 of those featuring designated "courtesy zones."
"They're not totally segregated, but separated from everyone," Mr. McCauley said. "They don't need to shout, and they don't need to whisper while using the phones."
Cingular said the campaign is setting guidelines, not rules, for the public.
"Everyone has their own perception of wireless courtesy," said Peter Nilsson, spokesman for Cingular Wireless in Atlanta. "It's an educational program simply making suggestions on how to use phones in a courteous manner."
Cell-phone etiquette is already stressed in movie theaters during the previews, said Kim Thompson, a spokeswoman for VoiceStream Wireless.
"I encourage the use of [public] messages, but how many times do I need to hear it? I would agree that you shouldn't use the phone in a way that distracts others, but they also have options for people to use them without bothering anyone else," she said.
The campaign could strengthen the image of cell-phone companies, said Drake Johnstone, an analyst at Davenport & Co. in Richmond. Mr. Johnstone covers SBC Communications and Bell South, the parent companies of Cingular. He said it could do more to boost Cingular's name.
"It's a good first step. People have used cell phones at inappropriate times, in restaurants and other places," he said. "Cingular's attachment of their name to this program is also a positive."
Mr. Johnstone said that the best way to encourage responsible and courteous cell-phone use is for individual establishments to set their own guidelines.
"They need the information to be conveyed by every establishment themselves. I do think it'd be worthwhile for public establishments to be more clear about their use," he said. "That'd help people better understand what's appropriate and what's not."


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