Text may be king, but wireless carriers are pushing Internet fees
For all the bells and whistles on cell phones these days, text messaging is the most popular feature for users. And while many are upgrading to phones that have full keyboards and wider screens to text more easily, they aren’t necessarily interested in using their phones to access the Web, according to research analysts.
That has some customers unhappy that they are increasingly required to buy data plans as explained in this previous post.
“We should not be forced to pay for data if we do not plan to use it any more than we should pay our cable or satellite company for premium channels, such as HBO or Showtime, when we do not plan to watch them,” wrote reader Stan Stinton in reaction to the post.
Stinton signed onto a Facebook fan page called “Say No to the Verizon Wireless Data Dictatorship,” which has 322 fans.
Another reader, named Cindy, wanted to buy her 12-year-old daughter an LG NV phone, which has an Internet browser and full QWERTY keyboard but isn’t quite as advanced as smart phones such as the Palm Pre or Nexus One. She was told by Verizon Wireless that she'd also have to get a $10-a-month data plan.
“She's 12, I have no intention of letting her go on Internet and do not like the idea that consumers are forced to buy the plan or be forced into a phone I might not be interested in,” Cindy wrote.
Text messaging was done by 63 percent of mobile phone users in December, up from 61 percent in September, according to a comScore study released earlier this week. The research firm also found that 28 percent of users said they browsed the Web on their phones and 18 percent of users said they downloaded Web applications on their phones. As the smart phone market evolves, more customers will use these mini-computing devices. ComScore said that last December, 17 percent of the mobile phone subscribers had smart phones, up nearly 6 percentage points versus a year ago.
Text messaging drives cell phones, according to a report released Tuesday by the research firm NPD Group. The top 10 selling cell phones had full QWERTY keyboards to make texting easier.
“By pushing users to a data plan, it helps users access capabilities they paid for in the device and not be frustrated that they shelled out for a phone that is capable of so much more,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of research at NPD. “It also helps cement a relationship with a carrier and of course is simply a source of revenue generation.”
Joel Kelsey, an policy analyst at Consumers Union, said the fees show that wireless providers are moving toward bundling services, much like the cable and telephone industries do with broadband, paid television and phone service. The bundles can be good for consumers who are looking to use multiple communications services at a discount. But additional charges and fees for things like wireless data aren't explained and, in the case for some customers, are unwanted.
Verizon requires users of mid-ranged devices – known as feature phones – to take on Internet data plans. Rubin estimates that 70 percent of cell phones today are feature phones. Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest cell service provider, said users were accessing the Web on their phones and going over allotted plans for Internet access. They wanted a basic data plan to help keep them away from overage charges, according to the company.
AT&T said that last September that it began to automatically charge smart phone customers for data and let consumers know about the new policy at the point of sale, in brochures and through text messages to those users. T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel smart phone customers are also required to buy monthly data programs. But Sprint Nextel allows users of feature phones with full keyboards like the LG Rumor2, Sanyo 2700 and Sanyo 2700 to buy just voice and text plans.
February 10, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: AT&T , Antitrust , Comcast , Consumers , FCC , Verizon
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