By Brandon Griggs, CNN
(CNN) — A movement urging Verizon to get rid of wireless contracts appears to be gaining steam.
A petition calling for the carrier to end contracts for smartphones and “create an affordable way for consumers to purchase their devices” had attracted more than 55,000 signatures by midday Tuesday on Change.org, the online petition platform.
Mike Beauchamp, a Verizon customer and blogger from Wichita, Kansas, said he started the Change.org petition 11 days ago after he heard Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam say he’d consider killing cell phone contracts if consumers asked for it.
“I believe that people should have the freedom of choice … to move freely between carriers,” Beauchamp told CNN in a phone interview. “I think that model where you tie customers in for two or three years is a tired model that doesn’t need to exist anymore.”
For years, most wireless carriers have subsidized the high cost of smartphones — often $600 or more — by requiring customers to sign long-term contracts. Customers who try to switch carriers before their contract is up often face hefty penalties — up to $350 for Verizon customers, according to the carrier’s early-termination policy.
But T-Mobile shook up the wireless industry last month by announcing it would revamp its pricing models to eliminate contracts. Instead, T-Mobile’s new service plans require that customers pay for their smartphones either up front or in monthly payments over two years.
Beauchamp’s petition urges Verizon to follow T-Mobile’s lead and get rid of contracts for wireless service. Change.org put the petition on its homepage Monday after it received more than 7,000 signatures on Saturday alone.
A spokesperson for Verizon would not comment specifically on the petition.
“Verizon Wireless has for years offered many different choices for customers, including contract plans or month-to-month plans that do not require a contract,” said spokeswoman Debra Lewis in a prepared statement.
Verizon Wireless does offer its phones without a contract as well, but requires the consumer to pay the full price of the phone upfront. For instance, a 16GB iPhone 5 costs $200 with a two-year contract but $650 without a contract. AT&T and Sprint offer virtually identical pricing.
Beauchamp said he’s hoping Verizon will agree to reduce or eliminate early-termination fees for existing customers and lower prices on phones sold without contracts. He said Monday he hadn’t heard from the carrier since he launched his petition.