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Cell Phone Early Contract Termination Fees Illegal
By David Najor :: Friday, August 1, 2008 :: 104756 Views :: Article Rating :: Law & Order, Business & Finance, Government & Society

California, USA - For many Chaldeans, the cell phone is a life-line to the family.  “Long hours at work, family members pulled in hundreds of different directions, constantly on the run; that’s the life of a Chaldean,” says Joseph Jirjis, store manager of Shop Cellular in El Cajon California.  “We have to stay in touch with one another.  That is how we are able to help one another and make sure everyone is safe.  Even my grandmother has a cell phone.”

Chaldeans often complained about the additional fees cell phone companies would add to a plan.  “They nickel and dime a customer to death,” Jirjis adds.  “Based on the company, we have to follow their plan, and they have all sorts of fees.  Many of our customers get shocked to see all the fees.”

The termination fee in particular upset many customers.  Cellular phone companies would sell contracts to customers and if a customer terminated their contract early an additional fee was added.    However, a Superior Court judge in California has ruled that the practice of charging consumers a fee for ending their cell phone contract early is illegal and violates state law.

In one of the most significant legal rulings in the tech industry this year, the tentative judgment orders Sprint Nextel to pay customers $18.2 million in reimbursements and orders Sprint to stop trying to collect another $54.7 million from California customers (some 2 million customers total) who have canceled their contracts but refused or failed to pay the termination fee.

“An appeal is inevitable since the ruling could have massive fallout throughout the industry,” says Jirjis.  “Companies use the termination fee as a way to keep customers tied to a plan.  Without the penalty, cellular carriers lose the power to lock customers into contracts for multiple years at a time.”

Jirjis points out that those contracts can be heinously long, they also let the carriers offer cell phone hardware at reduced (subsidized) prices. “AT&T's two-year contract is the only reason the iPhone 3G costs $199. If subsidies vanish, what happens to hardware lock-in? Customers would be forced to pay for expensive hardware if contracts were open.”

Of course, the carriers aren't going to take this lying down. Early termination fees are seen as critical to business, so carriers are expected to look for ways to reclassify the fees (such as by calling them "rates," part of the arcane set of laws that covers the telecommunications industry). The industry is also pushing for the federal government to step in and claim oversight over the early termination fee issue, which would invalidate any state ruling. The FCC is generally more tolerant of such fees, though Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed a plan whereby the fees are decreased the closer you are to the end of your contract.

The FCC may also buy the argument that, since carriers are nationally based (and consumers can use their phones anywhere in the country), that a single policy should apply across the nation, rather than creating a patchwork of legislation that could lead to confusion and chaos caused by having 50 different policies.

“Is the early termination fee dead?” We asked Jirjis.  “Not yet, but it's looking a little haggard,” he says. 

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St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  


Rev. Frank Kalabat
 

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.

 

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
 
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.