I am disgusted by recent telecommunications companies actions to get rid of unlimited wireless data for mobile customers, especially Verizon Wireless, who is supposed to be the leader of the pack.
By moving away from unlimited data and limiting mobile Internet use to those who can afford it, I feel we are taking steps backwards and slowing technological growth.
My History in the Wireless Industry
As many of you know, I worked as an independent contractor for Verizon Wireless for many years (back when the Treo 700W and LG 9900 were new on the market), and afterwards, I created a Q&A / review website specifically for Verizon Wireless (the site is no longer active). The website earned income by affiliate linking visitors back to VerizonWireless.com to purchase phones and plans, and various other websites for accessories. (Up until VZW ended their affiliate program and I stopped updating the site.) I am as close to a consumer expert as they come in wireless news and technology.
Things I’ve Forgiven Verizon Wireless For
- Allowing customers to receive excessive overage bills of several hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars
- Early termination fees
- Locking clients into new 2-year contracts for changing their monthly plan (not their phone)
- Introducing the Basic, Select, and Premium Plans… worst plans ever
- Changing the ports on every new phone so we’d have to buy new car chargers each upgrade
- Charging for ESN changes
I’ve come to accept that the Wireless Industry experienced growing pains and has taken a while to get to where it’s at today. Many of you are probably not even familiar with some of the items on the list above because wireless companies have moved away from things like plan change contract extensions and proprietary charging ports.
Why then, if we’ve progressed this far, is Verizon Wireless taking steps backward?
- We paid for Internet access by the minute?
- AOL gave out floppy discs and CDs with 100 free hours?
- Being online and on the phone at the same time meant having two separate phone lines?
- You could legitimately say to someone, “I would have called, but I had no reception.”?
- The only wireless carrier to offer unlimited voice minutes was SunCom, but it wasn’t really unlimited because your phone only worked in 20% of the places you wanted to use it?
- Sending more than 1000 text messages a month was crazy!?
- People used T9 to text?
- BlackBerry was the most advanced mobile phone on the market?
- You could drop your Nokia phone in the toilet, take it apart, dry it out, and it would still work?
- Cell phones had pull-up antennas like cordless home phones?
- Your 9-year-old didn’t have his own phone?
- People actually said things like, “I only plan on using this phone for emergencies.”
- People in their 20’s had land lines?
Yes, we’ve come a long way in the telecommunications industry. In 1984, the year I was born, the US Government divided AT&T into seven separate Baby Bell companies. Many of these companies were later responsible for building the wireless networks you use today, growing and merging into what has become Verizon Wireless & AT&T. Basically, it took less than my lifetime for these Baby Bells to ultimately merge back into a handful of telecommunication conglomerates. On top of that, the majority of US telecommunication networks are predominantly owned by foreigners. Americans don’t even own our own telecommunication infrastructure anymore… but that’s a separate issue for another article.
Today’s issue is about progress–movement towards a goal, advancement, development, growth, steady improvement towards a higher or better society or civilization.
Why Limiting Wireless Internet Usage Hinders Progress
Have you taken a look around the world in the past decade? We’re an Internet society. Online Banking, e-mail, social networks, mp3’s, streaming video, Apps, Mobile Web, travel planning, e-books, e-commerce, blogging, tablets, medical records, outsourcing, video chatting… Tell me one part of your life that ISN’T affected by the Internet and I’ll name 100 others that are. We’re an Internet society. 100% of my income is derived from the Internet in some form or fashion. Without the Internet, my entire life would be different, and you can’t tell me with honesty that yours wouldn’t be either.
If everything we do is connected to the Internet, and a substantial amount of that Internet usage happens on mobile devices, why would Verizon Wireless limit that? Why should I think twice before using Facetime to video chat? Why should I check my data usage while relaxing at the pool before I stream a tv show on Netflix to my Android? Should I limit the amount pictures I share on Instagram and ultimately the amount of information I share with the world from my mobile device?
My Problems With Limited Internet
Bandwidth isn’t something I can count. I can count how many minutes I’ve been on a phone call. I can count how many text messages I send and receive. I cannot, however, count how many megabytes or gigabytes of data I use while I’m accessing the Internet. And why should I?
Do you know how much data you use when you send/receive an e-mail? How about when you upload a picture? A 15 second video? When you stream an episode on Netflix? Watch a 2 minute video on YouTube? Read the news? Pull driving directions from Google Maps? Play Words With Friends? Use Apple Siri or Google Voice search? (yes that accesses the Internet too) Update your status on Facebook? Send a Tweet? Add a new Contact? Download an App? Visit a website? Listen to Pandora? Buy a Groupon? Send an Instant Message? Listen to your Voicemail? Find a place to eat on Yelp?
The “problem” with the Internet is that you don’t know how big, or data intensive, a website you’re visiting is before you actually go to it. As a professional website developer, I host 51 websites for small businesses and individuals. Since page load speed is now so important to Google’s algorithm, and has always been important to my visitors, I work hard to build light, speedy, mobile friendly websites using compressed images and streamlined code. This isn’t always the case for every website you visit. I formerly hosted a blog, where the author did not optimize her site for speed. All her images were high resolution and her website loaded WAY too much information on each page. The site received so much traffic and was using so much bandwidth, her peak visits would shut down my server! I had to put her on her own hosting plan since she had no intention of optimizing her website. Can you imagine if you visited her website from your mobile phone? If you waited for one of the pages to load, you would have just used 25 megabytes of your monthly allotment of data without even knowing it.
The situation described above wasn’t a problem for you before–only for the website owner. The more her traffic increased, the more bandwidth usage her website used, and the more expensive her hosting plan would become. In addition, if it takes 10 seconds for a website to load, she’s going to lose many of her visitors. Google says that anything past 2 seconds is an abomination!
What formerly was a problem just for web developers is now a problem for mobile Internet users. It’s not fair for customers to be expected to know how large of a website they are visiting from their mobile phone because it’s not possible.
The 24 MB mistake!
One time I accidentally sent out a 24 megabyte flier advertising an open house to 450 Realtors because I forgot to compress the PDF. A Realtor wrote me back the following e-mail:
Paul, I can’t believe that you sent out a 24 meg flyer, what a waste of bandwidth.
Please take me off of all further lists.
My first thought was, “Who cares about bandwidth?” My second thought was, “I can’t believe Tom finds it THAT incredible that I sent out a 24 mb flier. He must have not been in real estate very long.” (I say that because, sending a 24 mb PDF by mistake is at the BOTTOM of my list of dumb things I’ve seen Realtors do!)
A year later, I agree with Tom, “What a waste of bandwidth!” Now that I’m going to be paying for it, that is.
There is technology available that compresses Internet data before sending it out to mobile devices. Israel has created a new data compression technology and BlackBerry has used a compression technology for years.
Most consumers do not have a clue how the mobile Internet, browsers, or bandwidth work. In fact, many businesses or professionals who are active users of these things barely understand it themselves. Why then, should we be responsible for understanding this stuff and monitoring our usage when we already pay so much for it. I wouldn’t join a fitness center if I had to bring my own equipment, and I wouldn’t fill up at a gas station if they sold me fuel in cubic feet. How many angstroms per BTU does will my car get in the city versus the highway?
I understand that Internet usage takes power which costs money, but I don’t think it’s right for us to pay the burden of this any more than we already are. During the third quarter of 2011, which ended on Sept. 30, Verizon’s profit rose to $1.38 billion, or 49 cents a share, up from $659 million, or 23 cents a share. There is more than enough going around for Verizon to invest in an Internet compression service to save power on power consumption instead of charging me per MB. The obvious truth though, is that the cost we pay is infinitely higher than the actual cost of providing the service.
My Demands as a Consumer
If you’re going to charge me per megabyte, I demand you compress my Internet first. I demand that you enact warnings on my phone “WAIT! The webpage you’re about to view contains 8mb, which is a higher amount of data than an average website. Are you sure you want to continue?”
Does that seem fair?
Star Trek didn’t charge per megabyte. I haven’t seen every episode of Star Trek, but I never recall Geordi La Forge saying to Jean-Luc Picard, “Let’s not video chat with the other ship, we’ve already reached our 2GBs this month.”
Aren’t we modeling our future society after Star Trek? We’re not going to get there as quickly doing things like this!
For years, I’ve had a beef with Verizon Wireless called Overages. My feeling is that (back when people paid by the minute for Voice), if I exceeded my 900 minutes, I should never have to worry about receiving a bill for $600. Let’s say I talked 1100 peak minutes during my billing cycle on a 900 minute plan. At 40 cents per minute times 200 minutes, I’d receive an overage charge of $80.00. I’ve always felt that customers should be automatically bumped up to the next plan. So the 1350 minute package was $20 higher per month–that’s the most I should be charged. If you want to be evil, leave me on the higher plan until I say otherwise! But don’t charge me $80.00! I’ve seen it all in my day including a bill for over $1000 in voice overages. Many of these customers would just cancel their plan, switch carriers, and never pay VZW a penny. Not so great for their credit, but felt good I’m sure.
Jump forward 7 years–Voice is unlimited and now data overages costs $1.99/MB. Depite Verizon’s data usage meter, I shouldn’t be required to monitor my own bandwidth. If I exceed 1 GB, I don’t want to be charged $1.99/mb, I should be automatically escalated to the next tier. The biggest risk I should have with my wireless carrier is having a data usage bill that is $20 higher than expected because I exceeded my plan’s limits. It’s unacceptable to think that I could receive a bill with hundreds of dollars in data overages for not monitoring my plan. Verizon Wireless, don’t YOU work for ME, not the other way around?
Verizon Wireless will argue that the new plans will actually DECREASE many users data bills. This might be true RIGHT NOW while smart phones, tablets, and high data intensive processes like video chatting and movie streaming isn’t the norm for everyone. However, as we move in the direction of mobile-everything, Verizon Wireless will win again. Plus, who is to stop them from raising their rates, or rather, lowering our data thresholds without notice?
I want the Internet to grow and reach it’s full potential. While this is going to happen regardless of how we access the Internet or how much we pay for it, my feeling is that we will reach this goal faster with unlimited data. Charing per MB the way carriers formerly charged per minute is taking several steps backwards. I also feel that mobile carriers have more to gain through the development and purchase of apps and add-on services that use the Internet if they encouraged us to go online as much as possible.
What are your thoughts? Should mobile Internet be unlimited or pay-per-MB?