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Guide to Cell Phones

Source: Federal Communications Commission


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.

Image of telephone F A C T S

Emergency Calls
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 information automatically.

Conversation Privacy
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.

Usage Costs
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.

Disability Access
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:

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, or by calling the FCC’s information line for RF Safety, (202) 418-2464.

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 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

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.

Image of telephone F I C T I O N

"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 call.

"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"
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.

"All Cell Phones Can Be Used Worldwide"
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.
Image of telephone F R E Q U E N C Y

Choosing a cellular package can be overwhelming. Here are some questions to ask yourself about frequency of use and your other needs to determine the best plan for you before going shopping.

Calling Options

  • At what time of day will I be making most of my calls?
  • On average, how long do I expect each call to last?
  • How selective will I be in giving out my cell phone number?
    (Remember: you’re paying for calls you receive as well as those you make.)
  • Will I use my cell phone for long distance calls?
  • How often do I expect to travel outside my home calling area?

Phone Requirements

  • Will my phone need a clip so I can attach it to a piece of clothing?
  • Do I need a flip phone (one that has a cover you flip-up to access the phone) to guard against it inadvertently being turned on?
  • Does my phone need to be designed for use in other countries?






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