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The Irksome Cellphone Industry 272

Posted by Soulskill
from the reach-out-and-regulate-some-one dept.
gollum123 writes "David Pogue of the NYTimes wonders why Congress is worrying about exclusive handset contracts when there are more significant things that are broken, unfair, and anti-competitive in the American cellphone industry. He lists text messaging fees, double billing, handset subsidies, international call rates, and 'airtime-eating instructions' among the major problems not being addressed by Congress. 'Right now, the cell carriers spend about $6 billion a year on advertising. Why doesn't it occur to them that they'd attract a heck of a lot more customers by making them happy instead of miserable? By being less greedy and obnoxious? By doing what every other industry does: try to please customers instead of entrap and bilk them? But no. Apparently, persuading cell carriers to treat their customers decently would take an act of Congress.'"
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The Irksome Cellphone Industry

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  • Impossible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can't legislate somebody or something into being nice.

    • Re:Impossible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wealthychef (584778) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:26AM (#28818919)
      You can't legislate somebody or something into being nice.

      Sure you can, indirectly. Force them to compete for their business by making "exclusivity contracts" illegal.

      • Re:Impossible (Score:5, Interesting)

        by causality (777677) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:50AM (#28819101)

        You can't legislate somebody or something into being nice.

        Sure you can, indirectly. Force them to compete for their business by making "exclusivity contracts" illegal.

        Yes, but why stop there? Here's what I'd like to see:

        • Eliminate all forms of being locked into a contract. Make all cellphone service a monthly deal like any other utility so that the carrier has to earn your business each month. Y'know, by being competitive.
        • Require that customers can use any phone on any network of the same type, regardless of carrier. I.e. any GSM phone on any GSM network and any CDMA phone on any CDMA network.
        • Ban all locking down of phones so that transitioning to another network does not require the old carrier's assistance.
        • Regard the intentional locking down of cellphone applications as a prosecutable anticompetitive practice. The fines should be at least 120% of any profits made from doing so, as measured by sales of exclusive apps. Of course, the provider of the phone need not support any third-party applications, i.e. Apple would not be expected to support an application that didn't come from their own app store.
        • For GSM networks, require that any fees charged for text messaging state on the bill that cell phones continuously transmit the data structures used by SMS whether or not text messages are sent, so the cost for the carrier to provide text messaging is effectively zero. Require that this statement be immediately below or next to the dollar amount and in at least a 12 point font.

        THAT would be customer-friendly.

        • phone costs (Score:2, Informative)

          by p51d007 (656414)
          That is all well and good, but, wireless customers have gotten "use" to the cell phones being "free" or 20-60 dollars, because of the contracts. I would prefer to pay a higher rate for a phone, and pick & choose the carrier to use it on. The USA is WAY behind the rest of the world in the choice of phones they can use. If carrier locks were removed, and just about anyone could sell a phone, the price on high end phones, as well as the throw away phones would, because of competition, come down. The carri
          • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:47PM (#28819539) Journal

            So? Separate out the phone financing. It should have been separate all along. It can share the bill with the service, but you should be able to drop the service part and either buy out the phone or continue the financing deal.

            The way they have it now, they get to play "unregulated bank" (like paypal) at usury rates and even worse: when you finish paying off the phone, you still get to pay the subsidy rate as if you were still paying it off! (and no, I don't think $5--$10 off if I sign another 24 month contract is sufficient. I shouldn't have to sign a contract to get the rate I should be getting anyway)

            There is definitely a market failure going on here, and while I oppose regulation on principle, something does need to be done to bring back competition or fix the issue. If competition is impossible in this market then regulation is in fact warranted. And the regulation should be onerous enough that the companies prefer the market solution over the regulatory one.

            • I wish consumers wouldn't go for these bad deals. Evidently most people talk on the phone far more than I do.

              Where is the fault? Is the public to blame for needing communication so badly they'll submit to these terrible contracts? Or is it the environment for cell phone business that made it all possible? That environment was set up through another environment: the manipulation and neglect of government. What will it take to get these public servants to actually serve us, the public? "Throw the bums

          • Re:phone costs (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ciscoguy01 (635963) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @07:06PM (#28822533)

            That is all well and good, but, wireless customers have gotten "use" to the cell phones being "free" or 20-60 dollars, because of the contracts. I would prefer to pay a higher rate for a phone, and pick & choose the carrier to use it on.

            Heh. You wouldn't have to pay a higher rate for a phone.
            The whole problem is caused by this:
            There is no competition at all. The cellphone carriers keep a stranglehold on the equipment, with fake subsidies for the equipment which is a piece of subterfuge used to keep customers locked into long contracts. They mark the phones up to $300 or $400, then give you a big discount for signing a 2 year contract.
            The carriers should not be allowed to sell phones at all.
            If the carriers were just carriers, they would only be concerned with satisfying their customers.
            The carriers have very valuable FCC licenses. They have some amount of responsibility that they operate in the public interest, however little anymore.
            You would buy your phone from a retailer, and Motorola, Apple, Nokia would be beating down the door at Walmart to sell those phones, which would then work on all networks. They would be sold in a highly competitive market. Prices would decline. There would be no way to mark them up and then discount them since you would be buying from a retailer who has no interest in your service. The kickbacks would stop too.
            Then the carriers would be free to compete with each other and there would be no anticompetitive subsidy locking of handsets, no contracts to keep you locked in, and the prices of the service would decline.
            This would be pure business. Manufacturing, selling, providing service, all independent of each other.

        • by lymond01 (314120)

          I wouldn't have a problem with this, but I'd be stuck with the least expensive $100 handset. A contract assures the carrier that the cost of the handset will be at least recovered over the term of the contract. No contract, they'll charge you $400 for a clamshell phone that does texting and has 500 MB of music storage. The iPhone and Blackberries would bounce up to more normal $800+ pricing.

          A contract ties you in for two years and the service generally isn't terrible...I don't think I've had a problem wi

          • Re:Impossible (Score:5, Informative)

            by oliphaunt (124016) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:35PM (#28819437) Homepage

            The iPhone and Blackberries would bounce up to more normal $800+ pricing.

            I call BS. You can buy an 8 gig ipod touch today for under $200. According to the iSupply teardown, the GSM chipset in the iphone costs $2.80 [isuppli.com].

            $179.00 + $3.00 != $800

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I must live in an alternate reality United States.

            My phone cost $40 upfront, but they gave me 40 dollars of free calls, so essentially the phone was free and I was just paying for my airtime. I have no contract and I'm free to quit whenever I feel like it. You don't "have" to sign a contract if you don't want to, or pay an arm-and-leg for a phone since there are plenty of cheap ones around.

            I do think the exclusivity deals need to end. It reminds me of the dark ages of 1970s when the only phone you could

            • Re:Impossible (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @01:06PM (#28819709) Homepage

              My phone cost $40 upfront, but they gave me 40 dollars of free calls, so essentially the phone was free and I was just paying for my airtime.

              Yes, but that could be one hour of calls.

              Actually, I meant that as an exaggerated joke to prove a point, but then I realised that a lot of "normal" phone-to-phone calls I could make on my pay-as-you-go phone work out at virtually that (in UK money) per hour.

              Anyway, point I was going to make is that $40 "worth" of calls sounds nice, but isn't great if the calls are horribly expensive. In fact, they could charge twice as much for the calls, give you the same hour (or whatever's) worth and announce it as "OMG!!!!! $80 worth of free calls with this $40 phone".

              Which sounds like an even better deal, when in reality it's way worse because you don't actually get any more free, and your calls are twice as expensive.

              Same applies with dirt cheap printers that take horrendously priced ink carts. Buying a new printer because that $40 model comes with an ink cart worth $30 "free"? And the more they overprice the ink, the more that "free" cart is "worth", and the more the printer costs to run. It would make more sense to buy a printer where (e.g.) similar replacement carts were $10. But people don't think like that.

              • I don't understand your joke, but the initial $40 was credited to my account and could be used in any fashion I chose. Either direct calling, or texting, or web access. The key point is that the phone was FREE and I am not bound by any kind of contract. I could have signed-up, got my free phone, and then quit a month later.

                >>>isn't great if the calls are horribly expensive

                18 cents a minute. I only make about 5 dollars a month in calling, so that's much cheaper than $50/month plans. As for you

                • by Dogtanian (588974)

                  I don't understand your joke, but the initial $40 was credited to my account and could be used in any fashion I chose.

                  My rather unfunny "joke" was merely an (intended) exaggeration to make a point. Specifically that the network could charge you $40 an hour for calls, so that your free calls only last an hour. Or they could charge calls at $40 per minute in which case your $40 "worth" of free calls only lasts a minute.

                  The joke fell flat when I realised that I actually did (or recently used to) pay almost $40 per hour on PAYG anyway. It seems to be cheaper now.

        • How about also requiring that they make all specs and protocols available to any manufacturer? Like the iPhone has visual voicemail-- if I were to manufacture a GSM phone, could I easily plug into whatever kind of API AT&T is using to provide that visual voicemail so I can do something similar on my phone?

          Otherwise, you're going to end up with defacto exclusivity through locking features, if not service itself, to particular phones.

        • P.S.

          I almost forgot. I don't do any texting (why pay when email is free and/or voicecalls cheaper), but I do want to thank all of you who do lots of texting. Your addiction has helped subsidize my cheap 10 cent/minute phonecalls. Thanks. :-)

        • by b4upoo (166390)

          The very basis for the cell phone industry was so obnoxious to me that I have always refused to own one. In addition to not liking the bills cell phones can create I also loath the idea of being on electronic leash feeling that I must be available to others at all times.
          I have had employers that wished to give me a cell phone so that I would "be available for emergencies" and I refused. I have replied that I spend my free time fishing off shor

        • Re:Impossible (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @03:12PM (#28820671)

          Require that customers can use any phone on any network of the same type, regardless of carrier. I.e. any GSM phone on any GSM network and any CDMA phone on any CDMA network.

          Ban all locking down of phones so that transitioning to another network does not require the old carrier's assistance.

          Regard the intentional locking down of cellphone applications as a prosecutable anticompetitive practice. The fines should be at least 120% of any profits made from doing so, as measured by sales of exclusive apps. Of course, the provider of the phone need not support any third-party applications, i.e. Apple would not be expected to support an application that didn't come from their own app store.

          Eliminate all forms of being locked into a contract. Make all cellphone service a monthly deal like any other utility so that the carrier has to earn your business each month. Y'know, by being competitive.

          For GSM networks, require that any fees charged for text messaging state on the bill that cell phones continuously transmit the data structures used by SMS whether or not text messages are sent, so the cost for the carrier to provide text messaging is effectively zero. Require that this statement be immediately below or next to the dollar amount and in at least a 12 point font.
           
           

          The first three and likely the last two would be nicely fixed simply by making it illegal for a cell service provider to have anything to do with selling phones. The wired phone company used to pull the same thing - you had to rent the phone from them for some high monthly rate, and they'd only let one of their phones be hooked up to their wires. Then that all changed. When was the last time you bought a landline phone from the company that provided service for it?

        • by unfunk (804468)

          • Eliminate all forms of being locked into a contract. Make all cellphone service a monthly deal like any other utility so that the carrier has to earn your business each month. Y'know, by being competitive.

          Believe it or not, there is actually a valid reason for contacts. Here in Australia, the Nokia N97 costs $1100 out of contract (and I hear a similar price for the iPhone 3GS). Not that many people can afford to drop that kind of money on a new phone.
          Of course, it is a little ludicrous that the iPod Touch is a fraction of the total cost of an iPhone, given that there's not a lot of difference between the two. Perhaps anti-contract laws would force the price of handsets down, but I doubt it.

          Having said th

    • Re:Impossible (Score:4, Informative)

      by TrollHammer (1604811) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:33AM (#28818967)
      You can punish a corportarion if it does not behave correctly - like the European Comission has done with Microsoft and Intel, recently. Quoting the original article:

      TEXT-MESSAGING FEES Why has the price of a text message gone to 20 cents, from 10, in two years? There was no big technology shift. There was no spike in the cost of electrons. And speaking of anticompetitive: Is not it a little fishy that all four big United States carriers raised their text-message fees at essentially the same time?

      That is not a question of being nice or not being nice - if that's true, their behaviour is illegal, plain and simple, and should be punished.

  • by TrollHammer (1604811) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:27AM (#28818923)

    DOUBLE BILLING In Europe, youâ(TM)re billed only when you place a cellphone call â" not when you answer one. And youâ(TM)re billed only when you send a text message â" not when you get one. In this country, thatâ(TM)s how itâ(TM)s always been for landlines, too.

    That's not completely true. You are billed if you receive the call, provided you are not in your home country (if you are in France spending a few days of vacation, and your contract is with a Spanish operator, then you get billed if you got a call while in France). Fortunately, the European Comission is working on reducing the prices for that double billing. It is something that I guess lots of people in USA would like to see Congress doing.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:48AM (#28819089)

      I actually prefer the US version of double-billing for phone calls to the European one, as each person shoulders their expenses. The SMS thing is a complete joke though; may they die a quick and painful death!

      I wonder how much clout it would really take to do a multi-technology MVNO that opportunistically selects the cheapest carrier or the one with the best signal, and stops trying to be a "phone company." EVDO, 3G GSM, WiMax, WiFi... all in one handset?

      • At the end of the day it makes no difference. You're either going to pay 10 cents calling plus 10 cents on the receiving end, or else pay 20 cents calling. Either way the company gets its twenty pieces.

        Aside-

        Getting billed for receiving calls is why I often don't answer my phone. I just look at the caller ID and then call the person on a wired phone which is free-of-charge. Or send an email which is also free. Even if it's a long-distance call it's usually cheaper to use the wired phone (about 5 cents/

        • by socsoc (1116769)
          Where do you get free wired phone service? Whether you have a flate rate unlimited plan or a fixed number of minutes on the landline, it's still costing you.
      • by legirons (809082)

        I wonder how much clout it would really take to do a multi-technology MVNO that opportunistically selects the cheapest carrier or the one with the best signal, and stops trying to be a "phone company." EVDO, 3G GSM, WiMax, WiFi... all in one handset?

        that's exactly what the cellphone companies want to make sure you can't do, so if you want to route calls over wifi or USB on your phone then you'll probably want something like OpenMoko which doesn't impose restrictions on the software you can run.

        The Neo only has one SIM card though, so if you want to route over multiple cellphone networks then you might want a phone built in batches of 10 in a garage in hong kong.

        p.s. don't forget you can run your own GSM base station and route that over the internet. ht [gnuradio.org]

      • On the plus side of the double-billing: I believe it's the reason why it's illegal for telemarketers to call your cell phone.
        • It's not illegal unless you're on that 'do not call' list, or have previously indicated to them that you wish for them to stop calling you.

          We've got similar lists and practices in the E.U., so I doubt it's any fundamental reason for anything :)

          On the other hand, if I dial a wrong number, the person I called is only inconvenienced by the call itself - not by any inherent cost in being called in the first place. Ditto prank calls and whatnot.

          Sure, it might cost $0.20 here vs $0.10 (caller) + $0.20 (callee) t

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by uniquename72 (1169497)
            Assuming you're talking about the U.S. (as the comment you replied to clearly was), you comment is false -- there is no 'do not call' list for cell phones, because it is illegal in the U.S. for telemarkets to call cell phones using automated dialers. [ftc.gov]
    • by Manip (656104) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:51AM (#28819107)

      While it is true that cross-EU countries do suffer charges, that will only be the case for a little longer. The phone operators have already reduced the charges once and the EU is trying to get rid of them entirely, so phoning in France or the UK costs exactly the same and receiving calls is free.

      The US system is completely screwy. It is frankly shocking that you guys pay as much as we pay to send a text and on top of that you get charged to receive texts too (including adverts and other unsolicited text-spam). US voice isn't quite as bad because a lot of US carriers allow free inter-network cell calling as opposed to the fixed rates you often find in the EU.

      All in all, the US seriously needs some REAL competition as opposed to a small handful of large companies fighting for business while offering exactly the same terrible deal to consumers.

      • >>>The phone operators have already reduced the charges once and the EU is trying to get rid of them entirely

        Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the effort. Eliminating the interstate charges helps save everyone a couple pennies, but then the citizens turn-around and have to pay the EU ministers and bureaucrats ~$100,000 a year salaries for their labor during that negotiation. Benjamin Franklin had a quote that applies here: "Penny wise; pound foolish." i.e. Thowing away millions of dollars to pay

    • by grotgrot (451123)

      In non-US countries cellphones have their own area codes. Calls to those area codes cost more than calls to regular area codes. In the US cell phones do not have their own area codes hence the extra cost of cell calls is borne by the recipient. In both cases cell calls cost more.

  • Data plans (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:31AM (#28818951)

    I got 2M unlimited (really unlimited) data plan on my cell phone. Costs roughly 10 euros/month. Now, why can't Americans have the same?

    Seriously, the voice calls are prioritized first in the networks, and it's practically indifferent to the network operators what the rest of all that already built bandwidth is doing. There shouldn't be lack either, unless if the operator really grossly undersized their networks. The impact around where I live at is zero but the customers get a pretty nice service.

    That service is good enough to cover the costs. What is important is that it enables new sorts of (business) concepts for mobile phones and mobile applications. That's where the local operators have their stakes in: things like virtual wallets and such. By not making the data plans itself near free utilities the American operators are in fact stalling innovation. I kind of feel sorry about the lack of vision there. Instead of that the operators choose to pretty much just poop on their future revenues which is baffling to me.

    • Re:Data plans (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hedwards (940851) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:41AM (#28819021)

      Seriously, the voice calls are prioritized first in the networks, and it's practically indifferent to the network operators what the rest of all that already built bandwidth is doing. There shouldn't be lack either, unless if the operator really grossly undersized their networks. The impact around where I live at is zero but the customers get a pretty nice service.

      That tends to be a serious problem in the US, we don't require various communications companies to have the necessary bandwidth to handle things. I'm more familiar with ISPs and their tendency to oversell their capacity, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if cell networks were in a similar state.

      But then again, it could just be greed and corruption, the same thing which leads the free to provide text messaging service to be so ungodly expensive. Yeah, I realize it costs them something, but it's basically just slipped into messages that are going out already and costs basically nothing to provide.

    • by aero6dof (415422)

      I think the core of the problem is the American blind-faith that competitive markets will emerge if only government doesn't regulate anything. I'm ready for a balance of regulation shifting that line on that is considered anti-competitive behavior unrelated to the service itself - such as lock-ins, or coupling of technical capabilities. Figuring out that line isn't easy, or as simple as a "regulate nothing" mantra, but it's preferable to the current morass - cell service being just one area.

      I think Europe h

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:31AM (#28818953) Homepage Journal

    Someone in congress must have wanted to move his iphone to a new carrier. They don't really give a damn about an issue out there in DC unless it effects them personally, or are paid off to care.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times (778537)

      I think this is known to be literally the case. I recall something where some Congressman stood on the floor of whichever house he was in and complained that he wanted an iPhone and wanted to use Verizon.

      But hey, at least they're recognizing some kind of problem, and looking into doing something about it. I don't think it's necessarily that they only care about things that affect them personally, but they only understand the problem once it affects them directly. People aren't always that good at sympat

    • Yeah, if AT&T had just gotten their ass together and made sure they had good coverage in DC, they wouldn't be in this mess. As it is, a congressman with an iPhone is reminded every day they are in Washington that they can't switch to a company with good coverage.

  • Industry Response (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:36AM (#28818985)

    The industry response [mobilemarketer.com] to these charges has been interesting so far. Apparently Pogue got at least one executive at a major carrier's attention long enough for a PR piece to follow that tries to poke holes in some of the complaints...

    • That link should really be in the summary.
    • Wow. You have rural coverage. Congratulations, guys. How about the fact that you've ADMITTED your business model orbit around fleecing customers by crippling handsets such that everything customers do has to go through your "nation's most reliable network," thereby incurring pay-to-play fees over and over for simple operations that could otherwise take place over WiFi or Bluetooth?

      FUCK Verizon. Fuck them right in the ear. Sideways.

    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Saturday July 25, 2009 @01:09PM (#28819733) Homepage

      I notice he doesn't necessarily address the complaints, though:

      Myth #1: Americans pay more for wireless service. Fact: Americans pay ten cents per minutes less than Europeans.

      Among the 26 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Americans use the most wireless minutes per month, about four times more minutes than the average European consumer. Americans get the lowest cost per minuteâ¦an average of 10 cents lower per minute than Europeans pay.

      So Pogue complains that customers are getting double-billed for calls (which doesn't happen in Europe), and Verizon responds by saying Americans use more minutes and pay less per-minute than Europeans. Those ideas aren't in conflict. I would guess that Verizon is saying Americans use more billable minutes, which makes even more sense if they're being double-billed. Whether this is a better deal depends on how the math works out. If Americans are only paying half of what Europeans are paying per-minute, but are essentially being charged twice for every minute, then it's a wash.

      Now maybe it's true that Americans aren't getting such a bad deal. I'm just saying Verizon's vague responses don't really give enough information to evaluate them, and they don't address the complaints.

  • Compared to Japan (Score:4, Informative)

    by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:39AM (#28819009)
    In Japan the situation is pretty similar, while probably cheaper overall. From a few years back, the trend is the sale of a device for zero yen, while subscribing a 2-years contract. The "zero yen" is actually "You pay xxx yen monthly and, monthly, the carrier reimburses xxx yen" giving a zero-yen illusion (xxx being the actual devicePrice / 24). You may cancel the contract at anytime, but you'll have to pay the xxx * remaining-months (24 - months you paid) yen to the carrier. It is a good way to keep customers for at least 2 years. The iPhone 3G for instance is "free" (2 years contract) since March 2009.
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:40AM (#28819013)

    For example, a couple of weeks ago I began receiving robocalls to my mobile number from some "collection agency." They were obviously looking for someone else so I wasted a couple of minutes of airtime waiting for a human to pick up. After picking up, the twit basically said "we have the right person and you owe us $X" and that the calls would continue. I told them to never call me again and remove my number from their list. Now the robocalls continue at odd hours of the night and morning. When I complained to my carrier (ATT), they basically said "there's nothing we can do about it. BUT if you sign up for this new service for $4.99/month you can block specific numbers." So I complained that they were extorting money out of me to protect me from harassing phone calls. They suggested I complain to the FCC and didn't offer to help at all (other than suggesting yet another monthly fee).

    I'd love to just punt ATT, but they offer the best coverage around here. I'm open to suggestions on how to deal with this. ATT wouldn't even agree to block all "unknown/blocked callerID" numbers for me.

    Sigh....

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:49AM (#28819095)

      Save the number the robocalls are originating from, and set the custom ringer to 'Silent.'

      Worked wonders for me when I had the same issue.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by causality (777677)

        Save the number the robocalls are originating from, and set the custom ringer to 'Silent.'

        Worked wonders for me when I had the same issue.

        Better yet, make a federal law stating that you cannot be charged with assault for beating the crap out of the owners or upper management of any company that telemarkets or otherwise cold calls. That'd be the cheapest solution.

        • I think a federal law already exists that telemarketers (or bill collectors) are not allowed to call fax or cell numbers, due to the expense being born by the customer. If you've already asked this company to put you on their "Do Not Call List", and they are still calling, then you can file a small claims lawsuit which will result in that company being fined ~$10,000.

          In most cases simply saying "I'm taking you to court, which will result in a 10,000 fine" is enough to make them stop.

          • by causality (777677)

            I think a federal law already exists that telemarketers (or bill collectors) are not allowed to call fax or cell numbers, due to the expense being born by the customer. If you've already asked this company to put you on their "Do Not Call List", and they are still calling, then you can file a small claims lawsuit which will result in that company being fined ~$10,000.

            In most cases simply saying "I'm taking you to court, which will result in a 10,000 fine" is enough to make them stop.

            The problem is that the ones which do not respect the Do Not Call list tend to be fly-by-night operations that hang up on you or become rude the moment you ask questions about the company. Case in point: the "YOUR CAR WARRANTY HAS EXPIRED" calls that seem to be coming out of Florida and only recently ended because some attorneys general got tired of all the complaints and opened an investigation. The government has the resources to do that sort of thing; regular citizens generally don't. Incidentally, m

          • by swb (14022)

            There needs to be a much more powerful punishment that goes beyond civil punishment (aka fines), because fines just get built into the pricing model and don't hurt.

            Like other kinds of white collar crime, there needs to be 100x multipliers for fines plus 20 year mandatory prison sentences. Once a few of these guys get fines that essentially wipe them out forever and send them away for a couple of decades, the urge to cheat will disappear.

    • by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:55AM (#28819139)
      switch carriers, dump AT&T, get a TracFone at your local dept. store along with an airtime card sign up anonymously online with the info from the card and nobody can attach your real identity to your new cellphone, only give the number to those that you approve of
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's hardly useful to the vast majority of people who already have a lot of friends, coworkers and family that have their existing phone number.

        • That's hardly useful to the vast majority of people who already have a lot of friends, coworkers and family that have their existing phone number.

          Google Voice (formerly Grand Central) solves that problem. It's my "cell phone number". My real cell phone has changed a few times.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        switch carriers, dump AT&T, get a TracFone at your local dept. store along with an airtime card sign up anonymously online with the info from the card and nobody can attach your real identity to your new cellphone, only give the number to those that you approve of

        In my experience with reloadable phones, that would likely increase the number of collections calls. Those operators tend to have a customer base that often falls behind on bills, can't get credit, and ends up using reloadable phones because they can't get a contract.

        They also have a pool of numbers they reuse whenever an old customer drops and a new customer signs up. So it's likely you'll inherit a number previously used by a host of deadbeats.

    • by iburrell (537197) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:05PM (#28819217)

      Break out the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and get them to stop. Answer the phone and get their name and address and all the info about the debt. Mail them a written request for verification of the debt. After that, all contact needs to be by mail. They are already doing things they shouldn't like calling late at night. They are supposed to have mailed you a description of the debt. Keep a log of all of the calls and violations. Send them to the FTC if they don't stop. You can even sue them and get $1000 in damages for violations.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by frizop (831236)
      No, complain to the FCC. http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm [fcc.gov] Follow the little wizard and put everything you told us into it. It's not AT&T's job to stop phone calls to your device. You either call the police or the FCC.
    • by oliphaunt (124016)

      if you had a treo running palm OS, you could get something like TreoButler or CallFilter (or, I'm sure, any number of other apps) to control incoming calls. I have CallFilter, which allows me to sort calls by caller ID. You can select straight-to-voicemail, ring-to-voicemail, pickup/hangup with or without alerting, etc. I have all incoming 1-800 numbers and unknown callers set to go straigt to voicemail, and when I encounter a pest like the autodialer you've described they get the pickup/hangup treatment

    • by keytoe (91531)

      You need to get the collection agency's physical address and send them a debt validation letter (you can find standard boilerplate for a DV all over). Send it certified and keep notes. If they call you again after receiving that letter, you just won $1000 with an FDCPA lawsuit. Trust me, they won't call. They know exactly how far they can legally push, and lawsuits are not profitable to them.

      In short, this is not a problem your phone carrier should have to deal with. They're just a carrier. They don't care

    • at&t and most other carriers are pretty much required to allow you to switch phone numbers. You have to complain about it though.

      One thing you can do is if your phone allows it, you can assign unknown/blocked a ring tone, but make it ring silent (this varies from phone to phone, google is your friend, I did it on my Razr). Include something in your voicemail message that if they are calling from an unknown/blocked number, leave a message and you'll get back to them.
    • by skeeto (1138903)
      Your phone might be capable of blocking numbers by itself. My phone can, and I have it block anything "Unknown" (no caller ID or whatever), which immediately took care of all the telemarketers.
  • By doing what every other industry does: try to please customers instead of entrap and bilk them?

    "Industries" don't function that way, though individual companies can and do.

    GM and Chrysler sold crap, they knew they were selling crap, and their "exit strategy" was to have you and me and everyone else REWARD them for producing crap. Toyota, on the other hand, focused on what their customers wanted - a reliable means of transportaiton.

    More to the point, for the slashdot audience - Windows. It's crap. And yet, any efforts to end the lock-in are met with all sorts of fud, both from Microsoft, and teir partners, in an effort to continue to entrap and bilk and ass-rape their customers. Vista was supposed to be "the best Windows ever." That has changed to "We feel your pain - Windows 7 will be the best Windows ever." But no refunds for the millions who ended up stuck with crap. Costomer-focused? Nope - you're just peons to be lied to and raped and your wallets and purses pillaged.

    Show me this dream world where whole industries are trying to please their customers. It's still the exception, rather than the rule.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      Since the early 90s or so, GM and Chrysler weren't selling crap (no seriously, they might not have been as low maintenance as Toyota, but they weren't crap).

      The problem is that they made impossible promises 20-30-40 years ago, and the unions agreed to them (when the media talks about 'labor' costs of Detroit cars being higher, they aren't just talking about hourly, they are talking about funding retiree pensions and medical).

      The unions then agreed to work in new American factories for Toyota et al., with gr

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Since the early 90s or so, GM and Chrysler weren't selling crap (no seriously, they might not have been as low maintenance as Toyota, but they weren't crap).

        They're still crap. When you have a 1-year-old Malibu that has half a tank of gas and fails to start without being left overnight, there's a quality control problem. When the people next door, who were crowing about how great the build quality on their 2008 Malibu was, sell it at a loss in less than a year, and all you can get out of them is "don't

        • by dwillden (521345)
          A couple anecdotes about one model of one car do not equal the actions and production of an industry.

          Fact is, if your examples were the standard, GM Chrysler, and Ford would have been out of business long ago, despite any and everything the Gov might try to keep them afloat.

          Instead, just a couple years ago they were rocking. They were having a hard time keeping up with the demand for the vehicles we Americans wanted to buy. Then gas prices skyrocketed and we stopped buying those types of cars (SUV's
    • >>>in an effort to continue to entrap and bilk and ass-rape their customers. Vista was supposed to be "the best Windows ever." That has changed to "We feel your pain - Windows 7 will be the best Windows ever." But no refunds for the millions who ended up stuck with crap.
      >>>

      Ya know I've never once purchased Windows off the shelf.
      I don't understand people who do; it comes free with the PC.
      If you felt ripped-off buying Vista, it was by your own choice.

      The only OSes I've ever bought off-the-sh

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Ya know I've never once purchased Windows off the shelf.
        I don't understand people who do; it comes free with the PC.
        If you felt ripped-off buying Vista, it was by your own choice.

        No it doesn't.

        Unless your copy was an unlicensed one from some white-box builder who also "gives" you a "free" (pirated/cracked) copy. Maybe along with a bunch of "free" games, and a "free" copy of Office.

        If the cost of the OS were a separate line item on the invoice at Worst Buy and Future Shit et al, more people would o

    • Really, have you driven a GM car in the past 15 - 20 years? Since 1985 my family and I have owned 5 chevy's and a saturn. Baring car accidents, they've all lasted 10 years + or 150k miles or more. (that's our arbitrary cut off to get a new vehicle) And we've never had any major problems, just routine maintenance. All we've ever done was change the oil every 3k miles. Then usually a couple new sets of tires, new breaks @ 60k, a new alternator about 80k miles, and new plugs/plugwires around 100k and that

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Really, have you driven a GM car in the past 15 - 20 years?

        Yes - read my other posts in this thread. GM makes craptastic cars. They might look good to someone not used to driving something from Asia, but in side-by-side comparisons, the "Jap Scrap" comes out on top.

        I ask people which they'd trust more on a drive to Thunder Bay in the middle of winter - a brand-new GM or a 10-year-old Toyota. They say that's unfair - the new car needs tome to find the bugs. So I reverse it - would you trust a 10-yea

    • by westlake (615356)

      More to the point, for the slashdot audience - Windows. It's crap. And yet, any efforts to end the lock-in are met with all sorts of fud, both from Microsoft, and teir partners, in an effort to continue to entrap and bilk and ass-rape their customers.

      The geek came into the netbook market thinking that this time he held all the high cards.

      But XP on the Atom platform cleaned his clock.

      Vista and Win 7 RC have five times the market share of Linux in the W3Schools OS Platform Stats [w3schools.com]

      It took Linux six long years

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Funny how the Windows fan-boys point to statistics to justify their "Windows isn't crap" - sort of like "Eat shit - 10 trillion flies can't be wrong."

        Lots of people eat at McDonalds, but I wouldn't consider them to be haute cuisine.

        A billion people don't have clean water - doesn't mean I should consider making dysentery a high point of MY day.

        Don't confabulate marketing and lock-in with quality. Windows is still shit. People cursing their computers all the time because they don't know there are alte

  • by resistant (221968) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:48AM (#28819091) Homepage Journal

    One wonders to what extent the dominant business model of frantic and very often highly deceptive advertising effectively locks out the theoretical competitor willing to deal fairly with customers. If over here a service offers a very nice handset for a hundred dollars or for nothing after a sneaky rebate that may or may not be paid, "unlimited access" (to the Internet) with many lawyerly caveats that make it way less than unlimited, plus some seemingly large number of talk minutes per month that somehow ends up being rather less and which quietly saddles the heavy user with many extra fees, etc., then how exactly does the theoretical ethical service over there attract (the better class of) customers in all the noise and hand-waving?

    Telling potential customers that they will get less and pay more than with advertised plans from competitors, even if they actually get more and pay less, is a hard sell. When everyone else is lying, how do you prove you are not just another sleazy liar? Are there even enough potential customers of the ethical service provider in any given coverage area willing to take their eyes off the shiny new handset long enough to squint suspiciously and intelligently at the fine print?

    There must be a few smaller service providers that aren't crooked, scattered throughout the country. I wonder how well they are doing financially.

  • by _Shorty-dammit (555739) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @11:56AM (#28819157)

    They'd rather struggle, apparently. Why offer good/honest service at a good/honest price and keep customers while continuing to attract more, when you can just gouge the ones you have as much as possible? The movie theater industry has the same problem. Good movies or no, more people would go to the movies and buy from the snack stand if they didn't charge $17 for a Snickers and $43 for a popcorn and drink. Lots of people don't like going to the movies simply because the snacks are overpriced. So even if they do go, they don't go to the snack bar. If all these theater owners would wise up and charge reasonable prices for the goods in the snack bar, more people would utilize the service, and more people would go to the movies, and they'd make more money overall, despite making less on one sale. The cell industry is no different. Despite the fact that SMS text messages cost nothing to send, they're quite content to gouge customers for a service that costs them nothing to provide. They gouge for internet data usage. They gouge for MMS. They gouge for airtime. They're electing to remain oblivious to what customers actually say about them, because they claim they're struggling to make it as is. They claim they offer a fair service at a fair price, despite all the facts that prove otherwise. $5 from 1000 people will always be better than $10 from 100 people, but they'll never clue in that growing that 100 people into 1000 people is indeed just as simple as lowering their prices to something sane.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Erbo (384)
      The theaters charge you insane prices at the snack bar because that's about the only way they actually make any money. They don't get hardly any of the insane prices you pay for tickets, because the movie studios screw them out of it. The theaters just have to pass the screwing on to you.

      The cell carriers, however, seem to originate most of their own screwing.

  • Android (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lgbr (700550) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:01PM (#28819187)

    This is entirely why Android was developed and is so fundamentally important to the future of our communications. Today, without Android, what we're seeing is the case for network neutrality in the form of ringtone racketeering. Carriers are locking down your cell phone and forcing you to buy music from them. With every passing day we're using our computers less and our cell phones more. The difference between the two is that your carrier has total control over your cell phone while your ISP has no control over your computer. Suppose five years down the road you're still buying phones subsidized by a contract with software loaded onto them by Verizon. These phones end up replacing your desktop because they are now just as powerful. Now every time you want to listen to music, you are forced to suffer through a store worse than iTunes.. and let's even say Verizon forces you to use Bing instead of Google. This is bad for you as a consumer, and this is bad for Google as a content provider.

    Enter Android, where the operating system is open and available at no cost for any number of phones and presumably on any number of carriers. Now we see a future where everyone can run the same software on their phone regardless of carrier. Any time one carrier decides to lock down their phone people will quit buying it. It's not viable. Since we're talking about wireless data, it's easy enough to simply switch to another carrier. Now we've forced the telco's into companies that treat you fairly and compete for your business because they will become insolvent if they don't. We end up with network neutrality and control over our own hardware, and we did it organically without the use of government.

    Android is not the be-all, end-all phone operating system. However, if successful it will force all other cell phone platforms to provide the same level of freedom through market controls.

    • by morari (1080535)

      With every passing day we're using our computers less and our cell phones more.

      Only if you're an idiot. People should try chucking those cell phones out the window sometime. Being free of such a useless piece of technology would probably make them feel good. No one needs to be "connected" 24/7 in such a superficial manner.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lgbr (700550)

        Only if you're an idiot. People should try chucking those cell phones out the window sometime. Being free of such a useless piece of technology would probably make them feel good. No one needs to be "connected" 24/7 in such a superficial manner.

        There's nothing idiotic about it. Cell phones make our lives better. My cell phone has replaced the following tasks that I used to use my computer for:

        • Displaying the weather forecast
        • Alarm clock
        • Looking up restaurants, stores, and directions on a map
        • Tracking my car's mileage
        • Displaying stock quotes
        • Occasional emergency SSH sessions (when I'm out and I need to restart a system service immediately)
        • Some communication with friends
        • MP3 player in the car (yes, I used to use a computer for this)

        The cell phone consoli

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pwizard2 (920421)

      Today, without Android, what we're seeing is the case for network neutrality in the form of ringtone racketeering.

      The worst thing is that the carriers are going along with the ringtone scammers. (the ones who bait unwary people with "free" ringtones and then auto-subscribe them to an expensive ringtone service or worse, spam them several times a day with expensive text messages) Most people don't realize that they could be trapped if they put in their phone number on one of the scam sites; for some reason,

    • by Nethead (1563)

      Carriers are locking down your cell phone and forcing you to buy music from them.

      I've never been forced to buy music from any carrier. Why the fuck would I buy "music" that is only played on a one inch speaker anyway? To show the kids that I'm cool? Having money is cool. Annoying people with distorted crap every time someone calls is lame.

    • I'll stick with my iphone, thanks.

    • That depends. Around here Verizon has the better network hands down. I have AT&T as I have an iPhone and AT&T is what the company uses. Voice call signal and quality is fine, but we're on Edge. 3G was supposed to be here at the start of the year, then this summer, then this winter....maybe. A lot of people hate what verizon does with the shitty software they put on otherwise good phones, but the fact they can get 3G data and generally a little better coverage makes all the difference.

      Google ma

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Android is the messiah!

      Please. It's an operating system. All cell phones have an operating system. Most of those phones can do basic things like put ringtones on them and get your pictures off them. Or work on any compatible network. The problem is that the carrier demands that the manufacturer specifically disable those features so the carrier can charge you for them. You think that won't happen with Android?

  • by cr64 (801987) on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:14PM (#28819295) Homepage
    If the carriers thought that their customers really wanted no contract plans, they would compete for that business. As it stands, it is really not hard to get mobile service without contracts. Even pre-pay plans can be quite economical. Unlocked phones are readily available if you are willing to pay for them up front. Unfortunately most people are willing to sell their freedom for $50 off the cost of a phone, so the carriers keep doing it.
  • by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Saturday July 25, 2009 @12:26PM (#28819387) Homepage Journal

    That acts of Congress actually work?

  • Fix Lobbying First (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996)

    Apparently, persuading cell carriers to treat their customers decently would take an act of Congress.

    Risks, it's all about the risks. How is Congress doing with the health care bill? At the moment, the biggest supporters remaining are the AMA, health insurance companies, and drug companies. Carbon credits? The big supporters at the end included the coal industry.

    The cellular corporations are abusive monopolies and a giant, fetid, trust. And if legislation gets anywhere near passage, they'll be the ones writ

  • I have a cousin in USA, and last time we talked, she told me that she and her husband pay 120USD per month (total) and they get nice mobile phones and awesome Internet. She compared that to Serbia where she considered mobile rates to be extremely high, since we pay everything by usage. In the worst case, we pay about 0.05 per SMS (only sent one, receiving is free); we pay about 0.20USD per minute of call (receiving call is free); Internet can go up to 0.60USD per MB. But with some extra "packet add-ons" you

  • Yeah, this may sound like an astroturf, but it isn't. I have no connection with them, don't even use them (yet).

    Cricket [mycricket.com] started out as a small company offering phone service in a few areas, including mine. They were offering all-you-can-eat no-contract service, cheap, but you had to buy your own phone (or reflash another compatible one). They've done very well since, with their service expanding to most major markets.

    At the time I signed up for my last contract, their service was a little iffy, with "net

  • I'm not quite sure what it is, but it looks like that there is some government regulation in the US that makes the situation so bad. Compared to what we have in Sweden, the US mobile phone network is abysmal. In the US networks have poor coverage, high prices and long contracts that lock you in to one provider for a long time. If you thing it is geography, think again - Sweden has about the same population density as the US. We have some regions that are relatively densely populated but large parts of the c
  • I bought a phone recently for my son. $50 cash at T-Mobile. No contracts or anything. I then went for the slightly more expensive option of flex-pay. This basically allows me to go month to month and I just let them automatically take out the funds every month(which refunds me the $5 difference).

    $50 for a phone(Samsung t239), same price for the plan, and no contract at all. And he gets free incoming and outgoing calls to 5 numbers, which in 95%+ of his calling.

    I get two phones for $70 a month with no st

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@s[ ]hdot.org ['las' in gap]> on Saturday July 25, 2009 @03:29PM (#28820803)

    Sorry, for answering all your questions and killing all the buildup at once. ;)

  • by ccady (569355) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:39PM (#28839255) Journal

    I knew squat about how badly my AT&T cell phone was locked down. Until the day when I installed Google maps and got annoyed that it 1) did not use the built-in GPS on the phone, and 2) continually asked me if it could access the internet. How crippled is that? I looked up how to fix these problem (hooray internet!) and I found some kind person's instructions on how to debrand my W760 phone [sharkypr.net]. I realized that this would also fix several other problems with the phone, such at the limit that ring tones be less than 30 seconds long.

    The bottom line is that I had *no clue* that my phone was so crippled by AT&T! My ignorance was stunning. I had avoided buying an iPod because I thought Apple was "insanely controlling," but now realize that AT&T is just as bad.

    Here are some of the things that AT&T did:

    1. They restrict access to the built-in GPS so that you can only use applications that AT&T sanctions and makes you pay a monthly service fee for.
    2. They do not allow ring tones of MP3 files longer than 30 seconds. (33, actually?)
    3. They do not allow you to delete the ugly trialware applications that come installed on the phone.
    4. They do not let you run more than 1 application at a time + the media player.
    5. They do not let you configure an application as trusted to access the internet without asking *every* access. (This ruins many applications.)
    6. They force the browser's home page to their spammy advertising site.

    I'm sure there are other evil things. I'm *much* happier with my phone now, and it will become a much bigger part of my life now that I have "debranded" it. I am still a customer, but I now have no loyalty to a company that would pull that crap on me.

    (I am not affiliated in any way with this site [howardforums.com] which seems to have lots of good information on cell/mobile phone debranding.)

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