Stossel's "Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior"

No. 9 -- NASTY BEHAVIOR: Extra Cell Phone Fees

The cost of a phone call has actually been coming down. Through the miracle of new technology and heated competition, a three-minute cross-country call that once cost two bucks now costs 20 cents. But what's all that other stuff on your bill -- surcharges, regulatory fees, state gross receipts tax? A lot of people are upset about these extra charges.

But Steve Largent, president of CTIA -- The Wireless Association, says it's not the cell phone companies' fault.

Most of the charges are fees that government, not the phone company, adds to your bill.

It's a way to raise taxes without people seeing it because phone bills are so long and contain so many extra charges. Also, putting more taxes on your phone bill is not as politically painful as, say, raising income or property taxes. In Baltimore, where phone users were already paying heavy state and federal taxes, the city decided it wanted some of the action.

"They were charging every resident who used wireless services in the city of Baltimore $3.50. They said, 'Hey, this is a good thing. Let's double it,' " Largent said.

With the new "Baltimore City Surcharge" of $3.50, the average cell phone user there must now pay about $7 extra in taxes per phone line. Taxes on cell phone service nationwide now average 14.5 percent -- more than double an average sales tax.

It would be nice if the wireless providers who advertise a plan for $39.99 a month said you'll really have to pay closer to $50. But the companies are just passing on taxes and surcharges that government mandates. So instead of screaming at the guy behind the counter, maybe you should scream at city hall.

No. 8 -- NASTY BEHAVIOR -- Noise

People don't just foul public places with litter. They pollute it with noise. And we just tolerate it.

We asked actors to stage loud phone conversations and found that people are so used to being intruded upon, they just take it. Only one woman reacted -- and she only got mad because the actor kicked her bag.

The intrusions are everywhere. Try to enjoy a quiet lake and the jet skis show up. Want to take a winter's walk in the woods? You'll get an earful of snowmobile motors.

And the noise isn't just annoying, it can hurt us. It can damage hearing, cause high blood pressure and fatigue.

That's why sometimes, at least, police enforce noise rules. Cops sometimes give tickets, but that doesn't stop the intrusions.

And how about car alarms? They make so much noise and yet almost no one pays any attention. Neighbors don't call the police when the alarms are set off. They just ignore them. Drivers could save money and do their neighbors a favor if they bought less expensive, silent, antitheft devices like kill switches or computerized smart keys. Some come as standard equipment on cars.

They say New York's the city that never sleeps. Well, how could you sleep if you live near one of its nightclubs? We met people on a Saturday night who were being made miserable because of the street noise outside a club on their street.

"It is like something out of the Day of the Locusts. There is noise, there is cars, there are people screaming," one woman who lived near the club said. What did the clubgoers have to say?

They were unapologetic. "You gotta expect it. You live in the city, deal with this," one man said.

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