A few days back, I asked my Dad why he won’t get an iPhone. He responded that he doesn’t want to pay the extra $25 a month for a data plan, when he works from home and he’s always surrounded with Wi-Fi. Similarly, I’m sure that the iPhone 5 will be announced within the coming months, so I’m either preparing to pass down my iPhone 4 to my daughter, or sell it off. The only problem with passing my iPhone 4 down is that AT&T forces anyone who wants to use a smartphone on their network to have a data plan. Why? She doesn’t need a data plan 24/7. I have a CLEAR iSpot 4G (a personal Mi-Fi hotspot) that’s good enough for all our iOS devices. She’s usually with me or at home with Wi-Fi. And, speaking of Wi-Fi, it’s just about every place we go now. So, why does every carrier have the need to impose a data plan on smartphones? The answer is simple. It’s only to reinforce revenue for the company, and I believe it’s ultimately a disservice to consumers.
To that end, I wrote to New Jersey Senators Barbara Buono and Robert Menendez today to propose the idea of enforcing an elimination of mandatory data plans on wireless carrier subscribers.
Here’s my diatribe:
Hello, Senator Buono and fellow state legislators. My family and I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Metuchen Street Fair this past summer, and I know that you are a strong advocate for consumer protection laws.
One important issue I am hoping you could soon address to the Federal Communications Commission and/or Federal Trade Commission are the supposed mandatory data plans on smartphones imposed by wireless (or cellular) carriers, especially when there is no need or want for such feature on a subscriber’s wireless plan.
Most wireless carrier subscribers own a smartphone nowadays. Whether it is a BlackBerry or an iPhone, they are full-featured devices that dutifully serve as personal information managers and organizers to schedule calendar appointments, take notes, and hold detailed contact information. Most recently, they are able to quickly access the internet and send/receive email, as well as function as simple telephones.
Historically, it can be argued that smartphone users without a data plan had inadvertently racked up large monthly bills due to the “per kilobyte” and roaming costs that wireless carriers charged. With the fixed data plans offered by the wireless carriers, consumers felt more safe to know that they could access the internet, and download videos and files without the fear of being surprised at the end of the month with an astronomical phone bill.
But, because of the explosive growth of the smartphone industry over the last few years, wireless carriers have recently declared that they have had a “hard time” trying to cope with the increase of their network’s congestion and bandwidth. More importantly to them, to prevent any further revenue leak, they have moved to a tiered, but rather unbalanced data plan configuration that potentially charges subscribers more in the long run (i.e. AT&T Mobility’s $15 for 200MB per month plus another $15 for every 200MB overage, or $25 for 2GB per month plus another $25 for every 2GB overage, versus the previous $30 per month for unlimited data).
Alternatively, Wi-Fi access points, or “hotspots,” such as those initially set up in one’s internet-enabled home, and provided at your local Starbucks coffee shops and McDonald’s fast food chains, have now started to blanket entire areas, such as shopping malls like Simon Properties’ Menlo Mark Mall in Edison, NJ, and provided by Cablevision as an extension to their Optimum Online cable internet subscribers. Since most smartphones now have Wi-Fi capability as well as “cellular data,” this gives the option to the user to switch their method of internet access at their own discretion.
Nowadays, if you wanted to buy a smartphone, either with or without a subsidy and lengthy two-year contract, or if you simply procured or was passed down a smartphone that you want to add to your account, all wireless carriers have and will impose a data plan on that individual telephone number and device, regardless if you want one or not. The extra $15 to $25 and more, per month, per subscriber, per smartphone device, undoubtedly rakes in guaranteed big profits for wireless carriers. But, for consumers who either live in areas saturated with Wi-Fi access or have their own personal Wi-Fi devices (known as “Mi-Fi”), or those who want the features of a smartphone but don’t want full-time internet access, that $15 to $25 and more per month becomes a complete waste of money, especially in these hard economic times. It has been proven that the removal of a data plan should have no bearing on the subsidized price of a smartphone, as the subsidy is the same as a regular cell phone.
Since today’s smartphones are simple enough for young children and the elderly alike to operate it with ease, it is likely that smartphones will soon replace the cell phone entirely, or at least the lines will blur enough that all phones eventually become smartphones. At the same time, Wi-Fi hotspots will continue to grow and expand so that internet access is available everywhere. Within the last couple years alone, smartphones themselves have gotten even advanced enough to share the internet connection with other nearby smartphones and laptops (i.e. iPhone’s new “Personal Hotspot” feature), which could make individual data plans even more redundant. To that end, it is imperative that our government swiftly review this unfair practice by wireless carriers, and prevent them from exploiting this growth and imposing this unnecessary cost on consumers. If wireless carriers are going to offer a truly, properly tiered system, they must offer a $0 per month plan for subscribers who use or want no cellular data at all.
Whether it is for the ability to limit internet access to children and younger adults, reduce costs for an already overburdened middle class, and/or to offer an easier phone for parents and grandparents at home, this unnecessarily mandatory surcharge by wireless carriers must be considered a violation of consumer rights until it is nothing more than a removable feature and option on their monthly wireless phone bill.
Should you have any further questions or wish to discuss this further, feel free to contact me.
Let’s see if I’ll get a response. What do you think of the idea?