5 Ways Your Telecom Company is Screwing You
When you look at your bill for phone, wireless and Internet service every month, you can't help but feel a sense of impotent rage. The bill is always higher than what they advertised the plan for, they cram in endless mystery charges and deep down inside you know they're screwing you. And there's really nothing you can do about it.
Well, we have good news -- it's actually worse than that! Wait, did we say "good" news? Sorry.
The point is, many of the annoying things your cellphone provider does happen behind the scenes, and you'll never find it spelled out on your bill.
"4G" is a Bullshit Marketing Term
It was just a few years ago that everyone started getting 3G phones that could actually surf the Internet at speeds faster than '90s-era dial-up. But even 3G is going out of style. That's right, times are changing, grandpa! Now everyone's all about 4G. It's in pretty much every ad now, and every cellphone provider says its version is the biggest and best.
But ... notice how they're not citing actual speeds there? As in, actual megabytes per second or anything else you could actually make sense of? It's almost like they're taking advantage of the fact that the average person has no freaking idea what 4G is ("Wow, you can really feel the 'G' in this phone!").
Suggested slogan: "We didn't give an 'F,' so here's another 'G'!"
Well, the good news is that 4G isn't just some bullshit term they made up -- it's actually an agreed-upon standard set by a group called the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU. Then cellphone companies promptly went about utterly disregarding that and calling their much slower service "4G" anyway.
See, the 4G standard the ITU established is fast as hell -- it was supposed to be an on-the-move (i.e., riding in a train/car/bus) data rate of 100MB per second. Standing still, you should get a data rate of 1,000MBps. That's freaking 20 to 200 times faster than the average broadband connection in the U.S.
Goddamn! Tell us where to line up!
Ah, not so fast. The "4G" plans that cellphone companies are plastering all over their ads are a fraction of that blazing-fast 4G standard. Verizon is currently capable of 32MBps maximum (though they only offer 12MBps to customers), and AT&T's is about the same (though that hasn't stopped them from trashing Verizon's identical technology). Sprint theoretically gives up to 10MBps, and T-Mobile can do up to 30MBps. Again, compare that to the between 100 and 1,000MBps we were supposed to get.
You can't mudsling if you're both covered in poop.
So why were these companies allowed to call that shit "4G" when it wasn't even 10 percent of the standard? Well, once they started using 4G as a marketing term, the ITU actually backed down and just said "Sure, fuck it, whatever" and retroactively applied the 4G moniker to the standards the carriers are actually using. Proving once again that if you say enough stupid shit, people will eventually give in just to shut you up.
"You're saying we at the ITU won't bend over and take it? Well you, sir, are about to get a surprise!"
So now they actually can say they're 4G and be telling the truth. It'd be like if McDonald's started making their Quarter Pounder half the size and convinced the rest of the world to change their definition of a pound.
Data Rates for Texting Are Obscene
At this point, we probably text more than we talk. Americans alone send about four billion texts a day. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 72 percent of cellphone-owning adults text, usually about 10 times a day. Teenagers, because they actually have social lives, send about 50 texts a day.
And why not, it's cheap. It's like $20 a month and you can send every little thing that pops into your head to your mom, your best friend, your old third-grade teacher, your dog (you bought a phone for him just so he could read your texts) and that girl who told you never to contact her again.
"'Test results back -- it's herpes.' Annnnd send to all."
So $20 a month for a texting plan isn't bad, right? Especially when you consider that without a texting plan in place, each text costs 20 cents a pop.
Here's the thing that cellphone companies don't want you to know, though: Even the flat rate is a rip-off, because text messages cost basically nothing for them to send. Texts are kind of piggybacking on data they have to send anyway.
"Pass that to Josie, and tell Sarah on the way that she's an insufferable bitch."
When your phone is connected to a network, it operates on two different channels. One is the voice/data channel and the other is what's called the control channel. The control channel is saved for your phone saying, "Hey, I'm here!" to the tower and the tower saying "OK!" in return. It is constantly sending this traffic no matter what you do. Text messages use this channel.
Which is to say, this channel is used the same way whether a text is incoming or not. Have you ever wondered why texts are limited to 160 characters? It's because that's the maximum length of a string of data that the control channel can carry. When you send or receive a text, it's just the tower sending that instead of its usual "OK!" string. If there's no text message there, it just fills the space anyway.
The filler's nothing special, just "kill all humans" and things like that.
Even so, because texts are such tiny chunks of data, the phone companies are effectively charging you more than 7,000 percent more for a text than they do for the same amount of data downloaded as part of your regular data plan. A scientist in England found that a text costs four times as much as it would cost to send the same data from the Hubble Space Telescope.
And yet it never messages us.
It's kind of the data equivalent of bottled water. Because the total price is fairly low, you don't notice the obscene markup on what you're actually getting.
Bullshit Apps You Can't Uninstall
Have you ever gotten a nice, shiny new computer, brought it home, set it all up and then found out that the manufacturer felt the need to install like five different antivirus software trials (and an AOL installer, for some reason) before it even left the factory? Now you have to uninstall all of them, otherwise they bog down your system resources and bug you to buy the full version a month later.
Now imagine it was set up so that you can't get rid of the bullshit, and it took up a good chunk of your hard drive space. That's the situation with smartphones.
It also comes packaged with an odd sense of self-satisfaction, but that's usually deflated moments later.
The first time you pull your new phone out of the box and turn it on, you might find some app you don't give a shit about. And then another. In some cases, as much as 10 percent of your phone's storage can be taken up by crap -- and by crap, we mean apps that will expire after a demo period and won't let you use them further unless you pay for the full version.
OK, you say, that's the same as what we dealt with on our PCs. But the difference is that in many cases, this stuff can't be uninstalled. It will eat up a big chunk of the phone's resources -- forever. Congratulations, you've got bloatware. It can be anything from a copy of the movie Avatar to the game The Sims 3, or any number of for-pay services you will never, ever use.
"What the fuck is this? A call button?"
Mobile phone companies have discovered that they can get fat sacks of cash by agreeing to place the apps of the highest bidder on your phone. Kind of like if Ford found out that they could put a huge, permanent Burger King logo on your back window and pocket some extra cash for every car sold.
And instead of an air bag, it just has a giant inflatable cheeseburger.
Currently, this is primarily an issue with Android phones. Google gives its wireless partners a lot of freedom with their software, so those companies do what comes natural to them and abuse the shit out of it. It can also crop up on some BlackBerry (yes, that's still a thing) and Windows Phone 7 devices.
Apple seems to be the only one immune to bloatware's curse so far, but that's only because it doesn't want to piss off the crazy, aloof guys making them boatloads of cash.
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.
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!
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.
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.