August 1, 2008 9:47 am

These days, a cell phone contract lasts longer than plenty of Hollywood marriages. Thanks to a widespread practice of charging customers huge fees for canceling the contract early, it’s unappealing to drop your current cell phone company for a new one if you’re dissatisfied. (Trust me, this InventHelp employee knows from experience.)

InventHelp’s Invention Girl has learned that this practice is under the legal microscope. In a significant ruling, a judge in California has decided that the practice of charging consumers for early termination of their contract illegal and violates state law.

The verdict orders Sprint Nextel to pay customers $18.2 million in reimbursements and bars Sprint from trying to collect another $54.7 million from 2 million Californians who canceled their contracts but refused or neglected to pay the termination fee.

Certainly, the legal battle isn’t over (it’s a guarantee that the cell companies will appeal), but it’s clear the industry’s once-solid policy of long-term, nearly irrefutable contracts is shaken up.

While some unhappy customers will celebrate the ruling, its overall effect may hurt customers in the long run. Those epic contracts bring in cash that allows cellular companies to keep the costs of tech goodies like iPhones down. Plus, the FCC may step in and assume responsibility for a nationwide contract-cancellation policy. For those who move around a lot, imagine trying to keep 50 different contract laws straight!

InventHelp’s Invention Girl will call, er, keep you updated on the latest on this verdict.

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