Americans pay some of the highest prices for wireless data in the world, and it's going to get worse


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/21/thanks-ajit-pai.html


#2

And from Canada, we envy the US mobile plan prices…


#3

I’d be curious to know what actual cost impact deploying service in the USA has vs Europe. Does the existence of large wide-open space with few subscribers but a costumer base expecting coverage everywhere lead to an appreciable difference in cost? In other words is this an apples to oranges comparison?


#4

Am from Canada. Lived in Finland for two years. Truly unlimited data on smartphone and SIM-based 4G to Wifi home network bridge was absolutely glorious. Both of those combined costs less than one mediocre smartphone plan in Western Canada.

Near the end of my stay the EU enacted roam-like-home everywhere so your Finnish mobile plan just worked in any EU country. Speeds were also better than what I currently get at home with cable-based ISP.

Post-added tax on retail goods is also caveman hooey. I can’t wait for the future to catch up with us here in North America.


#5

Fellow Canadian here. My favorite thing about cellphone data plans is the way they try to compete on speed

“Now, with super fast 4G speeds, you can easily burn through your entire monthly data allocation under two minutes!!”


#6

I’m curious about Spectrum Mobile.

$14.99 a month for up to the first GB of data. Or $45 or so for “unlimited”.

Both seem to come with access to wireless hot spots (and your own wireless router) and no charge for non-cellular data use. The downside is you need a “new” phone, the cheapest is another $7.50 a month. S9 and iPhones are more expensive for 2 years.

I only seem to use about 512Mb a month for data which is mostly weather, maps, mail and app updates.


#7

In Taiwan I paid $30 a month for unlimited 4G. Here in Canada I just exceeded my $60 plan because of all the data iPhone requires to synchronize its clock.


#8

You would need a compatible phone, but Google’s Project Fi is an option ($20 unlimited talk/text + $10/gig data (max $60/unlimited))


#9

If I read this graph correctly, there’s many plans in the US that give you 5 GB or less for a price that over here will get you an unlimited plan and a nice new phone as well. Christ.


#10

Australia and the rest of the Asia Pacific region would disagree with the assertion in the title. Though to be fair, in the last year or so we’ve seen an order of magnitude increase in data allowance, which is quite astounding.


#11

AT&T recently tricked my wife into ditching our legacy, true-unlimited and unthrottled (but exorbitantly expensive) plan for a new bundle which had free (it wasn’t) DirectTV. She asked multiple times if there was a way not to get DricetTV since we don’t watch TV and don’t want a dish, and triple-confirmed it was free (verified with the adult kids that were with her).

After getting a $150 bill for said DirectTV, and spending two hours with their ‘Loyalty & Retention’ department, I came to a mutual understanding that they would be willing to lose me as a customer rather than voiding the DirectTV portion of the contract.

To stick me with the $600 two-year DirectTV that was not presented in good-faith, they’d be willing to drop my $6,000/year cellular contract. “A contract is a contract, and once she signed, you are stuck with it. Contracts are binding, they can’t be renegotiated! She should have read it closer.”

Blew. My. Mind.

Given I was already planning on ditching AT&T because of the cost, terrible service experience, losing my grandfathered data plan, and the fact I can get a much better deal through an employee discount and a different provider? The only thing keeping me was the annoyance of walking a block to change plans. The hubris of cellular corporations is extremely telling, and worrying.


#12

Was about to come here to say the same thing. Reducing cell phone plan prices in Manitoba was actually part of a counter throne speech from the NDP a few days ago.


#13

I’m curious about this too. I’m as critical of the big wireless carriers as the next person, but it seems like population density differences between Europe and the US would lead to very different deployment (and maintenance?) costs.


#14

I think the main difference is in legislation. There seems to be, to me at least, a lack of competition in the US market. Or they’ve formed a cartel. Either way, there’s a ton of competition in Europe and vigorous enforcement of laws against cartels. When people ask me “what has the EU ever done for us?” it’s easy to point to the telecoms market.


#15

Another Canadian chiming in here. If you want a real eye opener go to your cell carrier’s website, look up the plan prices for your province, then switch your location to Saskatchewan. I guarantee the price will be half as much. What makes Saskatchewan so special you ask? They just happen to have a government owned cell carrier that competes with the private market and drives prices down to reasonable levels.


#16

It certainly seems pointless to have the conversation without even attempting to separate out that question. North America is much less densely populated than Europe, and the capital and maintenance costs of network infrastructure must surely be higher. If those are providers’ main costs (?), that alone could explain most of the difference.

But it’s a complicated question. The backhaul part of wireless networks (i.e. the mostly-wired connections that carry data between cells) has the same financial characteristics as wired networks in the same region, since it’s more or less the same physical network. The cells themselves are a little different, because a single tower in Nebraska might cover an area larger than New York City, so the cost isn’t a linear function of geographic area like it is for wired networks; it may be that North America doesn’t need many more cell towers per capita than Europe does. To the extent that’s the case, then the relevant number is not the absolute cost of wireless service, but its cost relative to local wired access (which is also far more expensive in the US).

Broadly speaking, there is no competition in wired networks. You can have phone / cable / broadband / wireless companies “competing” to give you access to the same wires, but mostly they can only compete on the added-value part, which, in something this far from being a free market, can often look a lot like price-fixing.

The linked article presupposes that (what we are pretending to be) free-market competition is the only variable to consider. In my biased view, that is a pretty loaded way to frame the question. Europe may dress up its national telecom monopolies with more semi-fake competition, but I suspect it also regulates the underlying monopolies more heavily. If that’s why Europeans pay less, the linked article doesn’t seem interested in finding out.

(I’ll admit that when it comes to wireless, the competition is not totally fake, as carriers do run separate, competing towers. But without going into detail, I’m still not convinced that provides any great benefit compared to nationalising the whole system)


#17

I’ve been thrilled with Redpocket Mobile. Any US provider you prefer, 500 min/texts/mb for $10/mo. If you run out of data just throw on another 250mb for $5. There’s numerous other plans, including my son’s, a yearly prepay 3gb with unlimited talk/text that works out to $21.25/mo. Bring your own unlocked phone.


#18

Who knows. I do know that in my home country of Norway the government sees it as a public good to make sure everyone has access to mobile coverage and broadband. So they have subsidised connectivity in less populated areas, which there are plenty of especially further north in the country. I imagine other European countries have done similar things.
Norway also has fairly robust rules to ensure fair competition between companies and they will ban corporate takeovers that risk creating monopolies. They also mandate fair advertising, so you always know exactly what you will pay for something up front.


#19

Here the public sees the government as bad especially when it tries to do good


#20

Yup. SaskTel changes the game completely.