Phone Drama in the First World (See: http://wp.me/pBUvC-1W for Part I)
Since returning to the US from England I’ve been steeped in mobile phone drama. Spending my late-night evenings cruising Hulu I’ve spied a great new show called Run–Channel 4 (http://www.hulu.com/run-2013) —one episode, profiling a young immigrant caught in an illegal mobile phone ring, that prompted me to write more on the undersides of this industry in the US.
My iphone 3 officially died after I returned and could no longer operate the power button effectively. With chipped pieces hanging off of the sides and with no repair shops in sight, I hung the phone together with a rubber holder (BTW the ‘protective’ holder was a 4s model because they no longer had one for the 3) knowing it wouldn’t stick for long and hoping I could spit out texts even if the phone itself wasn’t working. I thought of the birds and the cell phone towers (apparently millions die every year), the e-sweatshop workers that make them, the copper and the people of Bangka, in addition to radiation, and then balanced this with being able to know where my daughter was at any given time and then that was it–I decided to replace it. As much of the research shows, m-phones are used heavily by women as safety insurance for keeping tabs on children. See my blog in July: mobile phone repair shops in the UK and their value (http://wp.me/pBUvC-1W).
The thing I had not counted on was not being able to really choose a carrier with the phone. I knew I wanted a refurbished phone and didn’t want to spend much money on it, but I did not expect to have to be locked to one of the three biggies–AT & T which I had before, Verizon, or T-mobile. While there was also Credo (a progressive phone company) the service area it covered concerned me, and they did not host iphones either (good for them!). But the ‘choice’ is crazy-making as I soon understood, because these three biggies are competing but not offering competitive prices.
The last time I used AT& T unlimited data and texting I paid a ridiculous $105 every month with taxes. I knew this was ridiculous because in England I paid a comparable $30 every month to O2 for the same exact service and thought this was expensive. T-mobile’s cheaper deal ($70) unlimited calls, texts and data seemed too good to be true—more on this. This was because the laws in England were better and controlled the pricings. Where was the FCC on this? They even supported keeping phones locked to carriers! When I got my service, the first thing I asked was to unlock my phone because of the very principle of being tied to a service carrier and not being able to move. The very idea of being forced to use a network was not fair (and I soon learned that this will hopefully be overturned (see: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/09/17/223542353/obama-petitions-fcc-to-legalize-cell-phone-unlocking). But when I bought my phone with the promotion that it would be unlocked within a week they never did. When I called the carrier, I was told it could take 40 days! Hmmm…I don’t ever remember being locked to a company in England.
And what of the phone? I was in a dilemma since I didn’t want to purchase a new phone and aide the very industries I railed against and thought I could sidestep but I was pressed for time since my new job was starting and I was overwhelmed with the so-called refurbished ‘deals’ on Craigslist, Amazon, and E-bay, and other carrier sites. I wondered if they were stolen, and legitimate if they were authentic and good after I read the reviews, and if these phones were locked/unlocked or tied to carriers. In the end, few of the refurbished phones, advertised solo or on the company websites, carriers and phones alike—didn’t offer much of a difference in price. On top of this, after I signed up for a carrier and a bought a phone (no, not the iphone 5 or 5s–it was a big leap in cost from the 4 and you had to have special cables and holders for the ‘new shape’-uck) it turns out my first bill was filled with errors, including charging me for what was supposed to be 2 weeks of a free trial, screwing up the dates that I actually signed up for it and overcharging me. My first actual bill was over $92. When I asked about this price (that was supposed to be around $70), they blamed the ‘taxes.’
After this ordeal, I have been left with the question about who actually is regulating these wireless companies, and what exactly I am paying for with this network service?