Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dang Modern Kids, With Their FaceTube And Their YouBook And Their Hula Hoops

I have an old pay-by-the-minute cell phone: no long-term contract, calls are 25 cents a minute, and I have to buy 20 dollars’ worth of minutes every three months whether I use them or not. Mostly, I do not – at last count, I’ve got over $300 worth of unused minutes on the account. I use that phone so rarely I don’t even know my own cell phone number, though I’m pretty sure there’s a “9” in it somewhere.

It’s a huge phone by modern standards – almost an inch thick – and since it lacks a folding cover to prevent the buttons from pressing themselves against things in my purse, I store it in a hardshell sunglasses case where I also keep a piece of paper with my cell phone number written on it, and my boyfriend’s cell phone number, and my boss’s from two jobs ago. (I told you, it’s an old phone.)

But I recently dragged my cell phone out of retirement – by “retirement,” I mean “the very back of the cluttered desk drawer where I finally found my cell phone” – because one of my part-time freelance gigs requires me to make occasional daytime long-distance calls I won’t make from my work phone. My voicemail box was completely empty – apparently the phone company deletes old messages after 18 months or so – but I was surprised to see a few recent text messages waiting in an inbox.

I deleted them immediately, since only spammers would send a text to that number. I’ve never sent one, partially because I prefer e-mail for written communications but mainly because the amount of money my per-minute cell phone would charge to send even a tiny message is insane.

And it’s not just my phone that charges a fortune for text messaging – we’ve all seen the occasional headlines about teenagers running up insanely high text-message bills, and the high cost of text messaging is now the subject of hearings on Capitol Hill.

Consumer Reports reported that text messaging is overpriced.
[Consumer Advocate Joel] Kelsey emphasized that text-message files are very small—with five hundred of them containing less data than a one-minute voice call, he says. Further, Kelsey points out, there’s been an “explosion of texting” in recent years, with carriers reporting up to a six-fold rise in text transmissions within just a few years.

“Carriers should be experiencing economies of scale and sharing that savings with consumers,” says Kelsey. Prices are discounted heavily for text messages bought in monthly bundles that typically run into the hundreds. But carriers have steadily, and in lockstep, raised the price of sending single texts.

As CU has noted, less than four years ago rates to send a text message were 10 cents per text at the nation's four big wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Each company then raised rates to 15 cents, then to 20 cents.

To CU, these text-message rates, along with exclusivity deals for certain cell phones, exemplify the need for “more oversight” into the wireless marketplace, to “determine if government intervention is necessary.”
It seems pretty obvious that yes, the cell phone companies are charging huge sums – and making huge profits – from text messaging as opposed to regular cell phone calls. Billing the occasional teenager – or even adult – $5,000 for a service that likely only cost them a few bucks to provide doesn’t win them slimefree status, either.

But I also see phones with unlimited text messaging plans advertised on TV every night, and I can’t be the only one noticing these commercials.

Once I talk through all the paid-for minutes on my cell phone, if I talk through all the paid-for minutes on my cell phone, I might switch to an unlimited calling plan, if it looks like I’ll make enough calls to justify it. Otherwise I’ll continue my pay-as-you-go scheme. It’s a hell of a lot more expensive for each individual minute I talk, true, but cheaper by the month when you consider how rarely I use it.

Same thing if I start text messaging. Right now, if some emergency absolutely demands I send somebody a text message I can do it, though I’ll likely pay around a quarter to send just a few lousy letters to the receiving phone. Still, 25 cents every so often is still cheaper than 20 or 30 dollars a month for an unlimited text messaging plan I’d certainly never use.

Sounds simple enough to me. So why, exactly, is government intervention in text messaging supposed to be necessary?

Damned kids need to get off my lawn. Or at least stop trying to regulate it.


Anonymous Russ 2000 said...

Had a family member with a similar use of cell phone and his provider eventually sent him a new phone because his was so old they no longer supported it.

10:21 AM  
Blogger anomdebus said...

Btw, I am a mostly lurker on Hit & Run, mostly ignored otherwise.

3:44 PM  

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