Saturday, April 16, 2011

F#@&! U.S. Cellular Companies

A friend gave me his old iPhone, which was great. I'd been thinking about a smart phone for a while, the big thing holding me back was the forced data plan for the 2 year contract. You see, 99% of the time I live in a wi-fi enabled area (either work or home, or most places in Corvallis have free wi-fi) - so why pay $30/month for something I'm not going to use?!

Here was my chance, a free phone (many thanks) that works on my carrier (AT&T), I'm good to go.

I start asking friends for their must-have apps and a couple of them mention that I might want to check with AT&T because they think I might get a data plan added because I'm using a smart phone. So I call up and get a service person who says all the wrong things to me (like, "you need one to use a smart phone" "you can't use a smart phone w/out a data plan" etc. (which are all technically wrong)). I get very frustrated quickly, but have a work meeting in 5 minutes, so I don't have time to go postal on the guy.

I wait a few days and finally call up AT&T again today and I get this calm-voiced woman who says more or less the same thing, but she's a lot smoother about it. The kicker for me (in terms of whether I wanted to try to argue up the management chain or not) was when she said, "I can transfer you to the technical department, but they'll say the same thing. And, you can quote me on this, you will be charged for a data plan on any cellular provider if you're using a smart phone."

Hm.... that kinda took the wind out of my sails. I stay on the phone for a minute or two longer, but the fight is gone. I sit down and google things, and yup, everyone is charging data plans for smart phone users. Some forums have people saying that if your phone is unlocked, somehow, magically you won't be charged, but they don't seem to be able to back it up.

Sigh... looks like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Is it worth it to me to get the minimum plan ($15/month) to only carry around one device? Or do I carry around two?

And I kinda really want/need two pieces of functionality the phone can provide. The first is a calorie tracker that enables me to keep track of food w/out having to dash off to the computer every time I look at a snack. The second is access to my work calendar. For a few years I've been able to get by without running MS Outlook, but work just switched to the latest Outlook, which means the meeting notices are no longer in a reasonable format for my scripts to add to my calendar, and I've gotten several meet times mixed up. The iPhone seamlessly integrates my work calendar and my personal one.

So, I'm kinda hooked (after a whole 5 days).

I'm still pissed off at the situation in the U.S. where the customers have very little power (as opposed to Japan/Europe), but I've come to accept there are some battles that really aren't worth the effort, and I think this is one of them.

The other thing that ticks me off are the rates.

We pay about $80 for 1400 minutes. Ignoring the free weekend and evening calls, that works out to about 12.5 cents per MB of data (assuming skype-like data usage, 60kpbs).

The two data plans offered are $15 for 200MB, which is 7 cents/MB, almost half the cost of the regular phone service. And the $25 for 2GB, which is just over 1 cent/MB. And you know they're making money on the $25 plan...

It just further convinces me that they're charging way more than it costs for the regular phone service, and the data plans charge way too much, but progressively less.

Just think, if they're making money on the $25/2GB plan, then they'd be making money charging me $9/month for the phone plan (that's the same rate).

For years we've had certain aspects of life get cheaper and cheaper. Moore's law has made it possible for us to have hand-held computers storing 100's of gigabytes of data, touch screen displays, etc. etc. Yet the phone service we get still costs the same as always, cable TV still costs the same.

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