Phone service has gotten so bad in the U.S. that it’s time to do something about it, argues Farhad Manjoo in Slate.
He doesn’t propose policies that would improve wireless access but instead calls for a simple four-item customer’s “bill of rights” vis-à-vis their mobile carriers:
- “You have the right to know your dropped-call rate.” Remember how some people argued that the dropped-call rate in New York City for AT&T was a whopping 30%? And how AT&T denied that but failed to respond with an actual number? And even if they did, how could we trust them? The FCC needs to force carrier to provide specific data to their customers about dropped calls, Manjoo says. Important: It can’t just include calls that the carrier dropped, but must find a way to include calls that one of the calling parties hung up on because it seemed like it dropped. This is more challenging, but only if this is accomplished will we know the real dropped call rate.
- “You have the right to return your phone.” You may read as many reviews as you like, and play around as much as you like in the store, it’s really impossible to know how well a phone will do in your particular case, so you should be able to return them. Furthermore, AT&T and Verizon’s claims about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective networks are so vague as to be useless, so the only way to make sure a network is good is to be able to try it out on your own and return the phone and the contract if it doesn’t work. (For what it’s worth, most carriers already let you do this, but it’s a pain if you’ve ported your number from one carrier to another and then need to change it back for whatever reason.)
- “You have the right to understand your bill (and your contract).” Here, Manjoo takes aim at all the hidden charges and fine print carriers try to tack on to the bills. In theory he’s right that these could always be made simpler and clearer, but we’re not sure that there will ever be a point at which consumers won’t be confused or angry at their bills because of something they did.
- “You have the right to unlock your phone.” This one is pretty self-evident. Obviously, carriers don’t want to do that because the only reason they sell you phones at these ridiculously low prices is because they get that money back over the course of your contract. That makes sense. The problem is that once your contract runs out, plenty of fine print and tricks make it really hard for you to unlock your phone. Others such as VC Fred Wilson have argued that all phones should be able to be purchased at their full price unlocked, so that power users and others with the money and the inclination can switch around between networks. We don’t see why carriers would object to that (these people are probably a small subset of users anyway).
These are generally fine, but having an unlocked phone in the U.S. is not as useful as it sounds. That’s because there are two different, incompatible technologies used to power major U.S. wireless companies, and other complexities. In practical terms, an unlocked Verizon phone would only be useful at Sprint. An unlocked AT&T phone would only be useful at T-Mobile, and even then, its 3G signal probably would not work, because T-Mobile uses a different radio frequency for 3G than AT&T. So, sure, perhaps some people will want to move old phones from carrier to carrier, but it’s not as great an idea as it sounds.
Manjoo backs up those four points with more arguments; read him here >
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