Readers of Newsweek this week may have noticed a full-page ad for Jitterbug, a cell phone service operated by GreatCall that is being marketed to seniors as an easy-to-use emergency phone service for aging Baby Boomers and their parents. The company offers a $10 per month ?Simple Emergency? calling plan where subscribers pay 35¢ per minute of use and a $15 per month ?Simple 30? plan that includes 30 minutes of calling (35¢ per minute after 30). Plans with additional minutes are available, all the way up to the $40 Simple 300 plan. Jitterbug is hoping to attract seniors thanks to its Samsung-produced handsets, which feature large buttons, large text, hearing aid compatibility, and louder than normal volume for seniors with hearing loss. The company also offers a ?OneTouch? handset which can be preprogrammed with important phones numbers (such as for a loved one or neighbor), an operator for operator-assisted calls, and 911.
While an emergency-only phone could be a good idea for seniors, there are some important details about the service that the Newsweek ad leaves out. First, the handsets themselves are not cheap, with a purchase price of $147. Subscribers who pay up front for a year of service can receive 20% off the cost of the handset. Second, there is a $35 activation fee and a $10 shipping and handling fee. Third, while Jitterbug's operator assistance service is offered 24 hours per day, seven days per week, a call to the operator counts for 5 minutes of usage time, or $1.75 for subscribers on the ?Simple Emergency? plan. Prospective users who can't use the touchpad version of the phone and plan to rely on operator assistance frequently should keep this cost in mind when evaluating the service. Fourth, Jitterbug's service operates on the CDMA network, which means that the phone will likely not work if it is taken overseas. Fifth, the Newsweek ad and the company's website both mention that government taxes and suspicious ?assessment surcharges,? are not included in the price of the phone, yet we were unable to get the company to spell out exactly how much those charges would be.
Prospective subscribers should assume that these additional charges will add an additional 10-20% to the price of monthly service. Finally, we tend to be skeptical of services like Jitterbug that are not offered in stores, because in the event that something goes wrong with the phone, the only way to get the issue resolved is over the phone or online. For seniors who may be uncomfortable dealing with telephone or Internet customer service, this could present a problem.
Source: Telecommunications Research and Action Center. http://www.trac.org