Cingular, Sprint, Others Give Katrina Victims Phone Bill Help

Cingular Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier, has said it would give customers in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina discounts on their cell phone bills, including roaming charges and text messages.

Customers in the New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi, markets will receive a one-time 50 percent credit on their monthly fee and will not be charged for roaming, extra minutes, long-distance or text messaging from late August through September 30, according to a September 8 letter made available on Friday.

Cingular's subscribers in the markets of Mobile, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana, will get a one-time

25 percent discount on their monthly charge as well as unspecified discounts on roaming and text messages.

The company, a joint venture of BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc., said the expiration date for prepaid customers will be extended to October 31 and will replace any that expired since August 29.

The Federal Communications Commission had expressed concerns that customers displaced by the hurricane would have their cell phones shut off because they had not paid their bills since they had been evacuated.

The agency sought details on what carriers were doing.

Cingular told the FCC the carrier would not shut off customers in the affected areas for 30 days and would stop collection efforts in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The company declined to say what impact, if any, the policies would have on its revenue.

Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 carrier, said it was working on a case-by-case basis with customers, would not cut them off and had stopped bill collections. The company is a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc.

Sprint Nextel, the No. 3 wireless carrier, said it would give a month of free wireless service to subscribers in the hardest hit areas and would also give free long-distance, extra minutes, roaming and text messaging.

Sprint also said in its own letter to the FCC that it would not cut off customers and has stopped trying to collect on unpaid bills. It did not reveal how long it would do so.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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