To Cell-Out or not to Cell-Out?

They have changed the way we communicate with each other and the way businesses do business. We can instantly talk to our best friend across the country or we can instant message our significant other in sociology class. Cell phone usage and profits are increasing dramatically while other calling services are nearly dropping off the map.

A look around on campus will tell the tale of the tape as to the level of popularity of phones at UVM. Phones on the way to class, phones, in class, and phones at home all are playing a large part in college students’ lives.

Verizon domestic wireless, which includes regional and nation-wide plans, increased with by 10% with 29.4 million customers from 2000 to 2001. To accompany the increased number of customers, Verizon Wireless’ operating expenses went up $100 million from 1999 to 2001. Similarly, AT&T Wireless’ gained 229,000 net subscribers from October 2002 to October 2003. An increase of 14%.

Marcia Simon, Verizon Wireless spokeswoman for New England said that every year the increase in cell phone subscribers is exponential. “College campuses are the fastest growing area for cell phones. Students want a number that they can be reached at all year. If they change houses and roommates they want a constant means that people can reach them.”

At the University of Connecticut Verizon added extra cell sites in anticipation of increased cellular usage in the Fall of 2003. Cell sites consist of towers and stations that will handle the load for incoming and outgoing cell phone calls. However, just a few days into the school year at UConn, the sites were overloaded and Verizon Wireless had to add yet more sites because of the excessive usage on campus.

Cell phones have become so convenient for students at the University of Vermont that some have resorted to using their phones as primary means for communication. Such is the case for junior Caitlin Quinn who doesn’t have a house phone at all. This option proves to be very beneficial for students as a way to cut expenses in these times of increasing tuition and text book price gauging.

Numerous students at UVM opt to give out their cell phone number to others before their house phone or their email address. The idea of convenience and availability is more beneficial than students’ finances. Senior Andy Miller sees cell phones as more of a social opportunity for himself, “I can get in touch with all of my friends nearly all the time. The forty five dollars or so that I spend is well worth the convenience of being able to call people all the time and girls being able to call me.”

Verizon long distance services declined $45 million in 2001 and $31 million in 2000 due to increasing competition and the effects of toll calling discount packages. AT&T long distance usage has declined 15.8% since the beginning of 2003 which has forced them to offer calling packages that sound just as enticing as some cell phone plans. AT&T has recently offered an unlimited local and long distance calling package for $29.95 per month.

Wireless calling companies are structuring their plans and features around the younger demographic. The option of unlimited nights and weekend usage is a large selling point for many college students. These times prove to be most convenient for the average student at UVM who spends most of their time attending class, studying, eating, and participating in other activities that just don’t allow the time to sit down and talk in the middle of the day.

Cell phones are also quickly replacing the traditional public pay phone also. Verizon lost $342 million overall in 2001 mostly due to declined usage and neglect of public pay phones.

Many companies such as Sprint and Verizon lure younger customers in with options that come with the cell phones themselves. Virgin Atlantic, the second largest British long haul airline has one of the trendiest and popular cell phone plans. Virgin Mobil doesn’t require any contracts any gives users access to MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and other television networks for interactive activities and polls. “The younger generation that grew up with video games are going to be more attracted to the gaming options on the phone,” said Simon. “Students like the text messaging and internet options anywhere they go. Cell phones are definitely a campus phenomenon.”

But there are others who simply aren’t buying into the hype such as senior Anna Sciortino. “I use a cell phone but I am more annoyed with it than anything I think,” says Sciortino. “It is such a nuisance to have it go off during class and have my roommates’ phones ring during the middle of the night. People think they aren’t being rude when they call a personal cell phone but you don’t want to have to deal with me when I hear the Star Wars theme at 3:30 in the morning because someone is calling.”

Professors are also not too appreciative of the increased cell phone usage on campus. Some professors have made it a class rule to shut off cell phones and some have even had to send out emails to classes asking for phones to be shut off during class time.

“Cell phones are causing a physical social decline on campus,” remarked junior Wrenruth Knowles. “I walk around in between classes and all I see are people with their phones glued to their ears. I came to UVM with the hope of being part of a community here and the phones are causing people to be very antisocial to one another.”

The use of cell phones on campus can either be seen as a help or a hindrance to peoples’ everyday lives. Phone companies are doing all they can to combat the convenience and low prices of cellular carriers that are being offered to students not just at UVM but across the country. Like it or not, cell phones are the wave of the future and can only get bigger.