Q There has been talk about cellphone carriers limiting their data usage. As a parent of two teenage girls -- who love to talk, text and download -- are there other ways to help keep cellphone costs down?
A Children and teens easily can go over their cellphone data limit playing games, surfing the Internet and downloading music. When it comes to monitoring your child's cellphone and data use, there are easy steps parents can take to ensure that their monthly bills do not come as an unpleasant surprise. Better Business Bureau asked the major cellphone carriers for tips on overseeing family data usage.
In 2011, BBB received 38,420 complaints against cellular telephone services and equipment, making it the No. 1 complaint category in the BBB system. While many of those complaints were from data billing issues, there are ways to prevent this, and the cellphone carriers are willing to work with consumers to monitor and, in some cases, lower their bills.
Parents need to be proactive, and aware of the data activity in which your child engages. You can save hundreds of dollars on your next cellphone bill. The cellphone industry has put together different data plans and restrictions that parents may want to consider if their child has a persistent problem of going over the data limit.
BBB has put together a compilation of the major cellphone carriers' data plans and packages:
• For AT&T users, parents should consider Smart Limits for Wireless, an online parental controls tool. Smart Limits for Wireless lets parents set limits on how and when their child can use their phone, including setting a dollar limit for downloadable purchases.
As the child approaches the download limits, he or she will receive an advance warning notification. And once a limit is reached, another notice is sent that the service will be stopped until the next billing cycle begins.
• For Sprint users, parents can take advantage of Sprint Mobile Controls. Sprint Mobile Controls allow parents to clearly understand their child's talk, text and app use habits. Parents can lock their child's phone on-demand or schedule locks during dinner, school or late at night.
• For U.S. Cellular users, parents can utilize the My Account tool to oversee their child's data usage. The My Account tool allows parents to receive text message alerts when their data usage is close to the limit, as well as block data to a specific handset.
• For Verizon users, parents can set up and manage usage controls through their My Verizon account. Through the My Verizon usage controls, customers can keep a tight rein on their accounts' usage.
Families or individuals can control wireless budgets with monthly usage allowances on each controlled line for voice minutes, messaging, data and content purchases such as ringtones, games and downloads. They will receive free text message alerts when limits are nearing and when they are reached. Once the allowance is reached, there is also an option to restrict usage.
• For MetroPCS users, parents can use the free Purchase Blocker that prevents mobile purchases. MetroPCS also has a special account called MetroConnect. This account allows parents to control purchases by only funding the account with the child's monthly allowance. Once depleted, no more purchases can be made on that phone.
For more information pertaining to your individual cellphone carrier, BBB recommends contacting them directly to see what data overage protection plans can be applied to your personal account. For more tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org.
• Note: T-Mobile did not respond to BBB's request for information.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfree press.com.