Should Verizon Wireless drop contracts? Online petition says yes

This Tuesday, June 12, 2012, photo shows a sign for Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cellphone company. (AP Photo / Paul Sakuma)

Just three weeks ago, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam responded to T-Mobile's move toward contract-free wireless service by saying that the number-one carrier could easily do the same if customers demanded it. As CNET reported, McAdam told reporters that he was "happy when I see something different tried," and added: "We can react quickly to consumers' shifting needs."

A Wichita, Kan., customer, Mike Beauchamp, decided to call McAdam on the point, via a petition that asks Verizon Wireless to free customers from the contracts that limit their ability to shop for different carrier. His petition says:

Getting rid of carrier contracts is a win for customers. Verizon's CEO, Lowell McAdam, has already expressed his willingness to do away with them if consumers speak loud enough about it. So here's your chance: sign this petition to tell Verizon to end carrier contracts and create an affordable way for consumers to purchase their devices. If you're a current customer, you don't have to switch carriers or have plans to switch carriers. I've been a long-time Verizon customer and I don't see myself ever leaving; but I want that choice myself; I don't want them making it for me and imposing stiff penalties if I do decide to leave.

You can find Beauchamp's petition here. Verizon and other leading U.S. carriers typically offer an alternative to customers who want to avoid a contract: paying full price for their phones. T-Mobile's new plans fully separate the device-purchase subsidy from the service-plan price. You can pay $580 today for an iPhone 5, or pay $100 today and $20 a month for the next 24 months - the same amount over time.

Or you can bring your own device - if it will work on T-Mobile's network. Before T-Mobile began selling Apple phones and unveiled its new plans, the carrier said it had been adding 100,000 iPhone customers a month under its "bring your own device" plan.

Even if its merger with MetroPCS goes through, fourth-place T-Mobile will be small compared with Verizon Wireless - 42 million subscribers versus 115 million.

Its move won't change the U.S. wireless industry's dominant business model. But as Beauchamp's petition recognizes, a shift by Verizon would alter the whole landscape.