On Wednesday, the company is expected to introduce a wireless phone service that will allow parents to set limits on their children's cell phone use as well as track them on a map using Global Positioning System technology.
Parents can determine what hours and days of the week children can use phones, blocking school hours for example, and what numbers they can dial. They will also be able to set spending limits on their phone bills.
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The new service, called Disney Mobile, has not been priced yet. It is expected to be unveiled in Las Vegas at the annual trade show for CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, and will be available in June. The service comes on the heels of Disney's February debut of Mobile ESPN, a service for sports fans.
Disney, like many media companies, is hoping to take advantage of the proliferation of cell phones by offering services of its own, like ring tones and wallpaper.
Many consumer groups, however, have begun voicing concerns about escalating bills. Every item, from text and picture messaging to downloading of content, costs a fee, with some unwitting users racking up hundreds of dollars in charges. Parents have complained, too, that it is hard to monitor their children's mobile use when they are out of the house.
"This is very much about putting control in the hands of the parents," said Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group.
As part of the mobile service, parents can set up a monthly allowance of minutes, text messages or other services for each child to use. Once a monthly allowance is reached, both the parent and the child receive an alert on their Disney Mobile phones. The parent then can decide either to increase the allowance or restrict the phone's use.
Parents can also use an online tool to designate when phones can be used (no more interruptions at dinnertime) and what numbers can be dialed. Certain numbers, like the home number or 911, can be programmed to always be readily available in an emergency.
The service will be available to consumers through Disneymobile.comand Disney Mobile kiosks in malls. To gain access to the service, a child must own a Disney Mobile phone, which costs $59.99 with a two-year service contract. Parents will not need to buy a Disney Mobile phone for themselves, but if they do not, they will have to monitor the child's phone use online instead of directly by phone.
The idea behind the service was to give parents flexibility, said George Grobar, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Mobile. For younger, less mature children, the service can be restricted to incoming and outgoing calls from family members. "Kids are terrified of the phone timeout," he said. But teenagers who want to send text messages and download videos can have the freedom to do as they wish.
Perhaps the most novel feature is that parents can determine the location of a child's phone, either from their own cell phones or by entering a code online that will show a map. In that way they will know whether their son or daughter is really at swim practice or hanging out at the mall instead.
And what about wives or husbands who want to keep track of their spouses? Can they be tracked, too?
"Only kids can be tracked," Wadsworth said, because they have to identify themselves.
Still, Grobar added, "there could be many interesting uses."
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