2.5 Billion Ways to Screw the American Mobile Consumer

This article in the New York Times just made me *mad*. It's about how SMS is taking off in the U.S. (2.5 billion messages a month) but because American carriers are allowed to charge for messages received and don't cap, kids are getting hammered with $400 phone bills or more:

Only $80 of his $400 cellphone charges were his father's, and most of his own, he said, were for text-messaging. "I was shocked, but I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "I didn't realize that I got charged for reading text messages. My dad was just like: 'Hey, it's your problem. Pay it.' "


At Mission High School in San Francisco, where three-quarters of the 975 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the principal, Kevin Truitt, says that many students were blindsided by costs associated with text-messaging and other features, like customized ring tones.

"It's causing family fights; the kids are broke, and a lot are graduating with debt because of cellphones," he said. "The carriers just seem to be adding new features that cost more and more and more. The students are not reading the fine print. No one understands the contract until they get the first bill and it's $800."

Yes, Europeans, if you haven't heard before, American carriers charge you for SMS messages received. It's the biggest scam in the world, and this article doesn't do much besides justify the carriers practices. I'm sorry, there's no excuse for the carriers to let this happen. Somebody gets a mobile phone and opts for the lowest cost plan there is, spends $50 a month for several months, then suddenly they rack up $400 in texting bills? And the carriers play dumb and just shrug their shoulders, "oh, well that's how much it costs, didn't you know? We have bulk-rate plans we could offer you from now on...".


Want to know why it's such a scam? When I got my AT&T Wireless phone last year just before Christmas, they wouldn't allow me to make any international calls because I had been a customer for less then a month. And *then* after a month went by, I had to go through a process to specifically enable that option. This is ostensibly so that people don't run up huge phone bills unknowingly. But for text messages? Well, that's different. The carriers seem quite happy to ignore those charges.

It's too bad that these sorts of business practices are just screwing younger and inner-city kids who don't have any real way of organizing against the carriers. But if I were those parents (and I'm sure there are *thousands* of them struggling to deal with massive text bills out there) I would start hammering at the Better Business Bureau and other agencies about this. It's a complete scam.

Think about it. If tomorrow I went out and bought a $2000 item on my credit card, where normally I don't spend more than a few hundred dollars at a time, what does my credit card company usually do? They call me. They called me 30 times when I was in Spain, "we're noticing someone is using you card in another country." It was annoying, but I understood why they were doing it. The American carriers, however, are just letting $400 text bills build up on their subscribers accounts because they *know* that there's little their customer can do about it. They're trapped in two year contracts and for many of us, can't live without our phone if it were to get shut off due to non-payment.

I hope no one ever mistakes me for some pro-carrier guy just because I think their technology is going to win against WiFi in the next few years. I for one can't *wait* until they've been reduced to nothing more than elaborate wireless ISPs, believe me.


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