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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 17, 1999. All rights reserved.
In a Cordless World, Lots of Batteries
by Kathleen Spring
Wires form the backbone of Paul Cottingham’s company,
but in the daily course of business, he has broken free. Cottingham,
founder and owner of PHC Enterprises in Pennington, fits out homes
— and upscale boats and cars — with cutting-edge tech toys.
A custom installer who outfits houses with complete digital built-in
phone, cable, satellite, music, video, and automation systems, he
is operating in a hot economy that keeps him on the move.
As he dashes between jobs, he uses his cell phone to stay in touch
with builders and clients, and with his family. Wire free (almost
entirely) for "five or six years," Cottingham, who lives in
Titusville with his wife, Lynn, and three children, says he keeps
his home phone connected only because "so many people have my
number." But his business card is imprinted with only his cell
phone number and his beeper number.
Cell phone usage is on the rise, as anyone stopped in traffic on Route
1, riding a commuter train, or pushing a cart in Wegman’s can attest.
Everyone is talking, from everywhere. But few who work in central
New Jersey are ready to let go of their land lines. Why not? Cottingham’s
example may be instructive.
First, the good news. Cell phones bills can be less expensive than
land phone bills. "I pay about 8 cents a minute to call anywhere
in the country," Cottingham says. His plan with Comcast gives
him 3,000 minutes, the most in any plan, for a flat fee of $250 a
month. He can make calls at any hour to any number in the lower 48,
from any number in the lower 48. He incurs no roaming charges or long
distance charges. It costs him exactly the same amount to call Lawrence
or Las Vegas. On many months, all of his business calls and all of
his personal calls come in at exactly $250, and that includes all
of his conversations with clients in Arizona and Oregon and Florida,
many made during business hours.
And, of course, the fee he pays for a cell contract allows him to
call from planes, trains and automobiles, as well as from construction
sites and clients’ offices, and to retrieve messages easily on the
The pain comes when the clock runs out. Every minute after 3,000 costs
25 cents. Cottingham often puts on an extra 200 or 300 minutes, but
he doesn’t mind. "I just use the phone whenever I want," he
says, finding the extra charges a small price to pay for always being
Using a cell phone is much more reliable now than it was when Cottingham
first went wireless. "It gets better all the time," he says.
There are fewer "dead" spots and reception is crystal clear.
"You just learn where the dead spots are," he says.
Even Cottingham has trouble sifting through all the billing possibilities.
"It’s not easy to figure out," he says as he tries to explain
how he combines a family calling plan for his wife and for Chris Damiano,
his installer/designer, with a plan that gives him the minutes he
needs. "They pay $45 for 250 minutes," he begins. "And
then they each pay $9.95 to include me. And I pay $9.95 on top of
my $250, but I’m switching to another plan. I’m going to drop to 2,000
minutes for $150 because a lot of my calls are to Chris, and he’s
on the family plan. But then extra minutes will be 35 cents."
Whoa. If Lynn Cottingham’s $45 allows her to share 250 minutes of
air time with her husband and Damiano, what is the $9.95 for? Answering
that question requires a detailed copy of his plan and punching numbers
into a calculator. Cottingham finally says he isn’t so sure that his
wife and assistant are paying the $9.95 extra, although he is quite
sure he is.
"They change the plans all the time," he says, but the real
bottom line is that explaining how his plans — current and future
— work will take more time than his cell phone battery has left
Final question: How does he keep his indispensable phone working around
the clock? "Batteries, lots and lots of batteries."
Most dedicated cell phone users by now have heard of
the recent report on 20/20, the television news magazine, suggesting
that radiation dangers from cell phones might be worse than reported
by the industry. Cottingham has heard about it. "I’m telling my
wife to save all the bills so we can sue the phone company," he
jokes. "There have been years when I’ve paid $18,000, $19,000"
in phone bills. "If anybody’s at risk, it’s me."
But the program also noted that radiation exposure was reduced to
virtually nothing by simply using a headset and microphone so that
the cell phone itself would not be planted immediately next to the
user’s head. Devices that plug into a cell phone and allow conversation
at arm’s length are available for as little as $10. A top-of-the line
Nokia headset and microphone is available at Princeton Cellular and
Paging for around $44.
And if you want to be totally hands-free, as well as cord-free, your
car can be outfitted with microphone, speakers, and a mount for the
phone. Princeton Cell’s charge for such an installation is $300 —
a small price to pay in order to be a defensive driver in the midst
of all those gabbers trying to drive with a cell phone pressed to
— Kathleen Spring
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