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Grandparents' cell phone woes
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By Wu Jiayin 

 "The period of validity of my prepaid mobile phone charges has expired again. But there's a remaining credit of over 50 yuan (US$7.30)," my mother told me last week.

Despite this, my mother will have to add another 30 yuan in prepayment for the mobile phone service to activate the remaining credit.

The limited validity period of prepaid mobile phone charges is a common problem for many people in China, especially elders who phones but make few calls.

A Xinhua report on April 7 quoted a recent survey as saying that over 60 percent of 105 Beijing seniors interviewed said they were troubled by this problem.

Most of them are prepaid users of China Mobile or China Unicom, the country's two biggest operators. Since the elderly rarely make calls, they usually choose the service without monthly fees.

When they fail, as they often do, to use prepaid charges within a specified period, they must make additional prepayment to activate the remaining credit.

Take the China Mobile. The minimum value of a prepaid phone card is 30 yuan, valid for only 90 days.

When the period expires, the user cannot make phone calls, despite have credit left.

Worse, if prepayment isn't added within four months of the expiry date, the phone number itself is canceled and the remaining credit is lost.

As a result, it is not uncommon for some elder people to have accumulated several hundred yuan as mobile phone prepayments.

Limiting the period of validity is unfair and a burden to consumers. Many a consumer asks: What right does the telecommunication company have to set the period in which I can use it?

Further, although the average mobile phone fees for seniors can be small, there's a large and increasing number of seniors. They make up a very big market share.

It's time for telecommunication companies to improve services for the elderly.

(Shanghai Daily April 13, 2009)

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