Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No Love Lost for the Mobile Phone Networks

"U.S. carriers are some of the most backward, unscrupulous and anti-customer companies in the nation," writes Mike Elgan of IDG News Service. And he tells us why in a list of the 10 best reasons to hate your mobile network provider.

While Elgan’s reasons for hating the telcos may come as little surprise to visitors of FreeMyPhone, many are worth repeating here:

1. Carriers overcharge shamelessly.

The OECD reports that U.S. consumers pay much more than people in developed countries across Asia and Europe for the privilege of calling and texting on the go. While the industry has attempted to debunk the OECD numbers, there’s no denying that they’ve more than doubled prices for texting in just two years -- for a service that costs virtually nothing to provide.

The phone companies also tack on extra fees in myriad and opaque ways. Who among us understands the many separate charges we see on our monthly bill? "Carriers employ experts to examine all the angles," Elgan writes. "It's not about charging more money for better service. It's about charging more money for the same service."

2. Handset exclusivity "deals" are a shell game.

The carriers justify the shackling of phones to specific networks as a special deal for the consumer, whereby the cost of the device is subsidized in exchange for customer loyalty.

Don’t be fooled. "When you get a ‘discount’ on your cell phone, YOU pay the difference, not the carrier, not the handset maker," Elgan writes. "Sure, they'll bury the costs in a muddled monthly bill. But believe me, you're the one paying." To top it off, they lock you into contracts that levy high penalties against anyone who opts to leave for a better network -- if one exists.

3. Carriers oppose Net Neutrality.

The phone lobby has spent tens of millions of dollars on hundreds of Washington lobbyists to fight efforts to open up wired and wireless markets to more consumer choice, connectivity and innovation.

The carriers’ No. 1 enemy is Net Neutrality, the founding Internet principle that ensures that everyone can connect online without discrimination or blocking by the network owners. Their fight against Neutrality has put the carriers in an untenable position: promising customers open Internet access via their latest crop of smart phones, while strong-arming Washington to allow them to deliver much less -- an Internet where you only get to go where they want you to go.

4. Remember who owns the airwaves.

"Companies that are granted licenses to use the publicly owned airwaves should be required by our government to meet certain standards of fairness, equal access and competitiveness," Elgan writes.

The FCC of old had taken a backseat on spectrum policy, acting more like a passenger than a steward of this great public asset. It’s been this way for decades and the foxes have nearly cleaned out the coop. Fortunately, there's a new boss at the agency: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seems intent upon ending the carriers' run. Late last month, he launched an official inquiry into the blocking of Google's free voice application, Google Voice, by Apple (seemingly in collusion with AT&T).

It's time we returned control of the airwaves to their rightful owner -- us. The new FCC action shows some promise that a better wireless future may be at hand.

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