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On Call: Can my carrier cut me off?

T-Mobile is threatening to cut off a reader from Wisconsin. Can the carrier end service without penalty? CNET's cell phone editor gives you the answer.

Kent German, CNET's cell phones guru, answers your questions about cell phones, services, and accessories and reports on the state of the industry. Send him a question!

Starting with this edition of On Call, I've transitioned to a blog format. On Call will continue to run every two weeks, alternating between answering your questions and discussing hot-button issues for cell phone users.

Q: I would like to know how secure conversations on cell phones are? Can your office IT department tap into your calls on your company cell phone?
- Lor

A: Unlike with the older analog cell phones, it's difficult to remotely listen in on conversations over the digital cell phones used today. Of course, a company phone remains property of your company, but your IT department would need sophisticated equipment if they wanted to eavesdrop. What's more, if they hadn't secretly installed some sort of recording device on your handset, they'd need to be near you while they were doing the cracking. So in other words, it's possible, but it's unlikely. IT departments usually have better things to do.

On the other hand, it would be very easy for your company to keep tabs on the text messages and e-mails sent and received on your phone. If you're worried about snooping eyes, I'd practice discretion in those areas.

Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

Q: Have you sent your iPhone wish list to Apple?
- Jacob

A: No, I haven't sent my wish list on to Apple. At this point, with the new iPhone rumored to come out this month, I think the device is a done deal. And in any case, I don't think Apple would listen to me.

Q: My parents live in Crivitz, Wisc., and have T-Mobile as their cell phone provider. Yesterday, they received a letter from T-Mobile saying that they were going to terminate their contract because they are costing the carrier too much money. Apparently, T-Mobile doesn't have native coverage in Crivitz and they have to pay other carriers for using their towers. They want to cancel my parents' service in June, but their contract isn't up until December. Doesn't T-Mobile have to stand by the contract also? Is this legal? What can we do?
- Andrew

A: Unfortunately, it is legal, and T-Mobile can do it. I found the following in paragraph six of T-Mobile's Terms and Conditions. "Coverage maps may depict coverage in areas where networks are operated by our affiliates and roaming partners; such coverage may change without notice. We are not responsible for those networks and some Services are not available on third-party networks or while roaming. We may impose credit, usage, or other limits to Service, cancel or suspend Service, or block certain types of calls, messages, or sessions at our discretion. We may suspend Service without notice if you exceed any credit limit."

Now just because T-Mobile can do it, that doesn't mean it's fair. Carriers never let their customers leave a contract without paying a fee, so it's pretty outrageous that they can pull the plug on a whim. Sadly, there's not much your parents can do. They can try negotiating with T-Mobile; depending on who they talk to, they might be able to continue their service.

Check out the columns in the On Call archive