- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008


A leading cell phone company declined to charge the government the same expensive fees it charges consumers for canceling their contracts early, acknowledging that “the government will never, never accept such penalty amounts,” according to internal corporate e-mails.

The exasperating fees are the subject of a hearing Thursday at the Federal Communications Commission. The e-mails from Nextel Communications Inc. show that the government is deciding whether to offer consumers relief from the cell phone fees that it has managed to avoid.

The Associated Press last month revealed details of the industry’s efforts to help consumers avoid such fees in exchange for letting companies off the hook in state courts where they are being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars by angry customers. Cell phone companies routinely charge customers $175 or more for quitting their service early.

In one such lawsuit, employees at Nextel - now part of Sprint Nextel Corp. - debated whether to assess a $200 termination fee to federal government subscribers under a contract with the General Services Administration. It decided not to, even though it charges the same fees to consumers and businesses.

“The government will never, never accept such penalty amounts,” then-Nextel marketing vice president Scott Wiener wrote in an e-mail in January 2004. Mr. Wiener declined to comment Wednesday about his e-mail. The e-mails obtained by the AP were marked “confidential.”

Sprint Nextel spokesman John Taylor said the company determined assessing the termination fees in its federal contract would have been illegal.

At Thursday’s FCC hearing, wireless companies were expected to argue that the FCC should assert jurisdiction over the fees.

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