5 Ways Your Telecom Company is Screwing You

#2. Dark Fiber

What if we told you that there was an entire world of possibilities under your very feet, right this second? No, we're not talking about the mole people's domain over our Earth's core. We're talking about dark fiber -- a network of fiber-optic cable built in the late '90s and early '00s that's capable of speeds hundreds or thousands of times faster than your current Internet connection.

So what's this expansive network of ultrafast cabling used for? Basically, jack shit. That's why it's called dark fiber. The majority of it is unused. It's just there, taunting you and the rest of America with its untapped potential.

David Meyer
We may never experience the indulgence of "super porn."

The thing is, before 1996, telecommunication companies were regulated by the government. But with the Internet and new technology on the rise, the government decided they didn't understand shit about it all and mulled letting the telecoms regulate themselves. As a bargaining chip, telecoms promised anything and everything they could, including a fiber-optic network that would stretch across America, delivering at least 45MBps speeds (a number like that was incomprehensible back then). So lawmakers pretty much agreed out of hand. They passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and handed the keys for the nation's data infrastructure over to the telecoms.

At which point we assume they purchased a hollowed-out volcano.

Eventually, all the networks were built (using about $25 billion in tax breaks), but after the dot-com crash, several of the companies underwent mergers and bankruptcies, killing them off before they had a chance to set up the necessary hardware to interact with the fiber-optic lines. So who stepped in to buy them up? Big companies like AT&T and Verizon, who had a vested interest in keeping copper wires around for a little while longer (which they used for their cheaper-to-maintain DSL and telephone services).

"What do they need it for anyway? Geocities loads just fine on what we got."

Only recently have they exploited copper as far as they could and begun offering consumer-level fiber-optic television, phone and Internet services instead. As for the pieces of unused fiber that huge telecoms don't own, much is being bought up by Google, which is attempting to start its own fiber-optic Internet service. So we may finally start seeing fiber-optic Internet in the next few years, but we'll still be buying access from massive corporations. Progress!

#1. You Get Charged Differently Depending on How You Use the Same Data

Once upon a time, wireless carriers had unlimited data plans, just like the Internet connection you have at home (or used to have, anyway), and all was good. But then smartphones became king and several of the major U.S. carriers dropped back into capped data plans. But hey, those plans weren't really unlimited anyway, seeing as the companies would actually reduce your connection speed to almost nothing if you went over a certain amount of data in the month. So maybe it's not so bad. Now you know exactly how much data you're getting and you can use it any way you want as long as you don't go over the limit, right?

After all, if you have a 2GB cap, what does the phone company care what you use it on? It's all the same on their end.

It's no one's business where you telecommute to work from.

Actually, they have a big problem with it if you use it for tethering. See, some customers don't understand why they're paying separately for an Internet connection on their phone and another for their home computer (and some people can't get the latter at all). So they download software that will let their computer run off of their phone's Internet connection. Why not? As long as you stay under the cap for your plan, what does the phone company care if you're displaying cat videos on you Android phone's screen or your big PC monitor?

They care a lot, actually, because it means you're buying one plan instead of two. So if you want to run your phone's data plan -- the plan you're already paying for regardless -- through your PC, the provider will charge you $15 to $30 on top of your existing data plan.

"And look, the wiggly profit line goes up. Business."

In the case of Verizon and AT&T, the tethering plans each give you 4GB of data instead of the typical cap of 2GB, which isn't so awful ... but there's still no explanation why you can't tether with the lower-cost plans. Data is data, right?

Naturally, it's totally possible to hack your phone and tether it anyway, but phone companies seem to have gotten wise to this. For example, AT&T now sends you an email if you try it on their network, telling you that if you don't stop they'll automatically add the tethering charge to your future bills.

And they'll tell your mother exactly what you're using it for.

Ashe recently wrote a short story for a charity book that you can buy here. For more of his stuff, check out Weird Shit Blog and Bad Metaphors.

For more insight into how you're being taken for a fool, check out 5 Innovative Ways the Gaming Industry is Screwing You and 5 Ways Hi-Tech Retailers Are Secretly Screwing You.

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