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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Verizon Tops Consumer Poll of Cell Phone Service

Aired August 1, 2003 - 19:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son went to a party down on a beach, down in southern Maryland, and couldn't get home. Cell phone didn't work because there's no service, no antennas down that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was supposed to be picked up from the train station and I couldn't get through, no one could get through to me. They were saying my phone was inactive when it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When cell phones attack.

Now, if you're one of the 145 million Americans who consider their cell phone almost an extension of themselves, you might want to know which ones are best.

Well, a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates ranks the cell networks and we've got "Fortune" editor-at-large Andy Serwer to tell us how they did.

Andy, thanks for being with us.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Sure.

I mean, isn't this something everyone wants to know about, Anderson?

COOPER: Exactly. So what did the survey say?

SERWER: Well, what they did is they asked 17,000 consumers. And Verizon comes in number one.

We have the rankings right here. Verizon, Nextel -- that's the Direct Connect people, and then Cingular, AT&T -- that's about average on the scale right there. Verizon is the biggest, too, by the way.

Then you go down to T-mobile, for all their wonderful commercials, Catherine Zeta Jones, not doing so well. Alltell is going to be falling off the map, perhaps, pretty soon because they're a smaller player and their service apparently is not so great, according to consumers.

COOPER: Now, this survey was also regional. So do we know which parts of the country have better cell service? SERWER: Yes, we do. The north central, like the Great Lakes region, actually scored really well. So did the southeast.

You can see here, mid Atlantic.

It's interesting, Anderson. The parts of the country that did best, populated but not a lot of mountains, maybe not a lot of big cities. And you can see the parts that did poorly, southwest, west, not very populated. The northeast, all those tall buildings in New York City, Philadelphia and Boston really hurt service, apparently.

COOPER: I mean, seeing the west as number five fascinates me. Every time I got to Los Angeles, a lot of times cell phone service is very bad there. And you think, L.A., of all the places to have bad cell service, you know.

SERWER: But it's the mountains. I think that might have something to do with it.

COOPER: Right. I guess that would be it.

And I guess there's not much people can do if, I mean, if they're locked into a contract and they see their list and they see T-mobile is not so great.

SERWER: Right. I mean, if you want to jump ship to Verizon all of a sudden, you know, you're going to have these problems. No. 1, you signed a contract when you signed up with your cell phone. You're going to be breaking the contract. That means a fee.

The other thing is, you'll probably have to get a new phone because there are three competing networks, CDMA, GSM and Nextel has its own, so you might have to get new hardware.

And the worst thing, Anderson, of course, is that you can't take your phone number with you. But as of November 24, you're going to have portability, which means you're going to be able to take that phone number with you. So I would suggest, unless you're incredibly unhappy, to maybe stick it out until November to take your phone number with you, which is so important.

COOPER: I must say, I've gone through, like, literally four phones in the last couple months. And one trick I did learn, though, which I'll just point out, is a little consumer tip -- that's my way of giving back -- is if you are locked into a contract and you want to get out of it and you have a high number of minutes. Actually, just if you can't get out of your contract, you can at least lower the number of minutes so the amount of money you're shelling out every month is a little bit different. So I'm actually locked into an old contract for a service I no longer use.

SERWER: Right. Fifty million people changed over the past year.

COOPER: Some big news for Verizon this weekend is not going to be good. SERWER: Yes. Verizon is looking at a very big strike as of Saturday night, tomorrow night. Seventy-nine thousand workers. At issue here, health care, job security, some of the usual stuff. The CWA, IBEW unions going up against Verizon management.

We haven't had a major phone strike in this country in many, many years. Ordinary service probably will not be disrupted at all.

But as soon as you start asking more and more from your phone company, like directory assistance or, God forbid, getting a new line installed in your house, it could be a problem. And it's not just the northeast, because Verizon is a big, national player.

COOPER: I hear a lot of places are going to be freezing new lines, at least temporarily.

SERWER: I think that could happen.

COOPER: All right. Andy Serwer, thanks very much.

SERWER: OK.

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