If dating were like the cellphone industry, you would have to sign a contract when you entered a relationship stating that you would remain monogamous for two years, even if you wanted to break up. That’s what cellular carriers have pulled off by successfully lobbying for a recent government ruling that you cannot take the phone you paid for and switch to another provider.
It’s the latest reminder that owning a cellphone on one of the biggest United States providers can sometimes feel like an unhappy relationship. Time and again, in the minds of many customers, these companies take advantage of us and there isn’t much we can do about it.
Srinivasan Keshav, a professor at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, who studies mobile computing, has found that cell carriers make more than a 4,000 percent profit on text messages. Sending a megabyte of text messages over the cell network costs customers roughly $1,500. What does it cost carriers? Close to nothing, as texts piggyback on other data transfers, including voice calls. The carriers combined make billions of dollars a year in fees on texting alone.
Then there was AT&T’s decision in mid-2010 to kill unlimited data plans on smartphones for new customers. As Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote at the time, “AT&T prefers to make life harder for its customers, if that’s going to give it a little bit more money.” For those who kept their unlimited plans and use larger amounts of data, like me, AT&T sometimes slows the data connection on its network.
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