Discount for cell phone users to expand


Ten percent savings could be available soon for Verizon wireless customers, officials said


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[Jill Casselman/DP file photo] Marissa Famularo, a sophomore in the College, talks on her cell phone on Locust Walk. Verizon customers, in addition to those who use AT&T; Wireless and Nextel plans, could soon receive 10 percent off their cell phone bills


As students abandon their dorm phones in favor of the flexibility of mobile technology at growing rates, the University is looking to accommodate this shift.

Officials are planning to expand Penn's current cell phone discount policy and are also looking into switching from landlines to an Internet-based system.

Many Nextel customers on Penn's campus do not realize that they can get 10 percent off their cell phone bill just because of their affiliation with the University. Cingular Wireless customers who until recently subscribed to AT&T; could also receive the discount. Cingular will maintain the discount for old subscribers but has not said whether it will offer the deal to new subscribers.

Penn faculty, administrators, staff and students are able to receive the discount, and about a month from now Verizon customers will likely be able to participate in the plan as well.

"We're ... facilitating a better price [for Penn affiliates] by aggregating business toward two or three vendors," according to Mike Palladino, Penn's associate vice president for networking and telecommunications at Information Systems and Computing.

"We figured if we told vendors that ... [then] they would, in turn, give us a better deal," he said.

With roughly 3,000 Penn affiliates currently receiving the 10 percent discount, Palladino said the number is still growing.

Institution-wide, current participants in the program are doing approximately $2 million worth of business, therefore collectively saving about a total of $200,000.

Due to "the way the market is going," Palladino said that he thinks Verizon's "strong presence" will draw more Penn cell phone users to the discount plans.

Palladino also said that the "biggest push" for having three vendors and not just one -- like Vanderbilt University, which has only a SprintPCS deal -- was "the concentration of existing sales."

"If we were already doing a large percentage [of business] with someone," Palladino said, "all those customers would save 10 percent."

Even those who have existing contracts with AT&T; Wireless and Nextel that are not due to expire soon can take advantage of the discount.

These Penn customers can call the company's contact person and prove their affiliation with the University, usually by providing a phone number or an e-mail address. The discount will appear on the statement in about a month or two.

Like many Penn students, College junior Orlee Hamer said that she had never heard of the discount plan.

Although she is a Verizon customer and said that she would not have switched providers for the 10 percent savings, she also will not look into the discount when it is extended to Verizon.

"Everyone in my family is on the same plan," she said. "My parents, luckily, pay the cell phone bill."

Hamer disregarded the AT&T; Wireless advertisements and the Nextel information tables outside the Penn Bookstore back in September. Palladino said he expects the discount plans to be better advertised when Verizon becomes the third vendor.

As the wireless provider receives all the financial gain, Penn is "not in a position to ... spend $100,000 on advertising [because] we're not getting any revenue," Palladino said. "The onus of advertising is really on the vendor."

Penn students also try to save money by receiving calls on their dorm room phones and making outgoing calls on their cell phones.

Palladino recognized the trend and said that trying to find the "lowest cost and best service" is a "financially intelligent" way of making calls.

A survey that wrapped up last week -- which was completed by about 10 percent of on-campus residents -- will allow the University to assess the use of landlines on campus.

Hamer, who said she does not even know her own dorm phone number, has never made an outgoing call on it for two reasons.

First, "it's a pain to have to type in the code every time you want to make a phone call," she said.

Secondly, because she is usually only in her room late at night when she gets free minutes on her cell phone, "there's no use in paying for calls," she said.

ISC is currently reviewing a Voice over IP system, which would use the Internet to place calls. Although the plan is still in its initial stages, Palladino said he hopes the cost might be lower than that of traditional landlines.

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