Cell phones, or more accurately, wireless phones, have received a
great deal of attention lately. Here are some Facts you
should know, Fiction you’ve probably heard, and Frequency
of use questions you should ask yourself if you
are considering purchasing a cell phone or changing your service.
A C T S
To receive emergency assistance from your cell phone, 911 is the number
to call in most areas of the country. When you speak to the operator, be
sure to give your name, cell phone number (including area code) and
exact location. Not all jurisdictions have systems that can provide this
Two methods are used to transmit wireless calls over the air, analog and
digital. If you are concerned about whether your conversation will be
overheard, digital signals are considered more secure because the
sophistication and complexity of a digital system makes interception of
calls virtually impossible.
In the United States, whether you place or receive a call on your cell
phone, you are the one who pays for the call. Depending upon where you
travel abroad, this may not always be the case.
Out of Home Area Calls
Your home calling area is defined by your service plan. If you make or
receive a call outside the boundaries of your home area, you may be
charged long distance and/or roaming fees.
Most telephones needed for analog wireless services are accessible to
individuals who use hearing aids (hearing aid compatible, or HAC) or
TTYs. However, most telephones needed to access digital services are not
presently accessible to users of these devices. Under a new federal law,
Section 255 of the Communications Act, companies are working to make
these products and services accessible to all people with disabilities.
Before purchasing a telephone or cellular service, consumers with
disabilities should check with manufacturers and service providers to
ascertain whether a certain product or service is accessible.
Information on how to contact wireless telecommunications companies is
available on the Federal Communications Commission’s Web site: www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/section255_manu.html.
Cell Phones and Your Health
In consultation with federal health and safety agencies, such as the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FCC has adopted limits for safe
exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. These limits are given in terms
of a unit referred to as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is a
measure of the rate of absorption of RF energy in the body. The FCC
requires cell phone manufacturers to ensure that their phones comply
with these objective limits for safe exposure. Any cell phone at or
below these SAR levels (that is, any phone legally sold in the U.S.) is
a "safe" phone, as measured by these standards. Information on
SAR levels for many phones is available electronically through the
FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology at http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety,
or by calling the FCC’s information line for RF Safety, (202)
There is no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless
phone usage can lead to cancer or other adverse health effects, such as
headaches, dizziness, elevated blood pressure, or memory loss. However,
studies are ongoing, and key government agencies such as the FDA
continue to monitor the results of the latest scientific research on
this topic. See FDA Web site at www.fda.gov/cdrh/phones.
Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) has established an ongoing
program to monitor research in this area and make recommendations
related to the safety of mobile phones. See WHO Web site at www.who.int/peh-emf.
Cell phones have been shown to have an indirect effect in one health
area, in that they potentially can cause interference to implanted
cardiac pacemakers under certain conditions. Some studies show that
mobile phones could interfere with implanted cardiac pacemakers if the
phone is placed within eight inches of the pacemaker during use. To
avoid this potential problem, pacemaker patients may want to avoid
placing a phone in a pocket close to the location of their pacemaker.
"All Toll Free Phone Calls Are Free"
Because you use "air time" to call a toll free number from
your cell phone, a fee is charged, and more than one may apply. Read
your contract or check with your provider before making that toll free
"Plan Changes Are Impossible"
Cell phone plans have numerous options, and many companies are willing
to make changes from one plan to another free of charge during the
length of the contract. Ask your provider if there is a penalty or
cancellation fee before requesting a change.
"Every Provider Has the Same Off-peak and Weekend Hours"
"All Cell Phones Can Be Used Worldwide"
Many cell phone providers offer unlimited off-peak and weekend calling
hours as part of, or with, the purchase of their standard service plan.
Be sure to ask for a definition of off-peak and weekend hours. Times can
vary among providers.
Most developed and developing countries have some form of wireless
telephone service. The digital networks used to provide this service can
differ from country to country, with GSM (Global System for Mobiles)
being the one commonly available in Europe. To be able to place a call
while you are outside the United States, you must have a digital cell
phone that is designed for use on the network in the country where you
will be traveling.