Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Captive Audience

This is a rant that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing.

This is my screed against my cell phone provider and their ridiculous text message policy. When we got our phones several years ago, AT&T was our cellular provider and text messages cost 10 cents to send and NOTHING to receive. While still overpriced (IMO), since my husband and I only rarely used text messages, I was willing to pay-as-I-went.

Then AT&T became Cingular and then Cingular became AT&T again. Along the way, the price of text messages increased to 15 cents each both to SEND and RECEIVE. So a single message that I might send to my husband went from costing 10 cents to (effectively) costing 30 cents. That's triple the cost.


In my last bill, I saw that they are raising their messaging rates again. This time to 25 cents. So a single message, sent from my phone to my husband's or my son's will cost the family 50 cents.

AT&T seems to want me and my family to purchase text plans in addition to our monthly cell phone package. For $4.99 a month, I can send/receive a decent amount of text messages, included. But in order for our intra-family messages to be included, we would *each* have to buy the package. (Or we could add a minimal messaging plan to all the family phones for $19.99)

It's not the cost I object to. They are a business and can charge what they believe the market will bear. That's capitalism. What I object to is paying to receive a communication. I don't know of any other medium in which I have no choice in receiving communication AND where I have to pay for the privilege.

Email? I don't pay for SPAM in my inbox. My internet provider charges me a monthly fixed rate regardless of how many emails I get or how much I browse the net. Even if I was charged by download time, I would have a choice to download or read any email.

Land lines? If I don't pick up the phone and talk, I don't get charged for the time of a phone call.

Cell phone? Ditto. I don't get charged minutes for phone calls I don't pick up.

Snail mail? The sender pays for the stamp.

So why don't I have a choice to accept or not accept a text message to my phone? The only option I do have is to enable or disable text messages as a whole.

So why does the recipient have to pay in addition to the sender? How could the cost of transmitting text messages have gone from 10 cents a message to 50 cents a message in 5 years? That far exceeds inflation and besides, in nearly every other facet of telecommunications and technology, the cost of services and hardware has decreased.

So I am a captive audience. And anyone who knows my cell phone number, could send me a text message. In fact, my younger son tells me this is a favored tactic of middle school bullying--having a group of kids text obnoxious messages to a target child, knowing that unless that child has a text plan, they will be costing him or her significant money. Economic bullying? Hard to believe 12 year olds even think in those terms.

C'mon AT&T, change this high handed practice. Charge the sender, but not the recipient for text messages. Why treat text messages differently that other electronic communications?

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