I tried to parse my AT&T non-iPhone cell phone bill this morning.
I needed more coffee. I couldn’t do it.
Since we switched from Sprint to AT&T for the love of the iPhone we’ve seen our bills go up by about 25% for comparable coverage – and lower quality.
We’re not the only folks to notice this …
Voice Plan - $40/mo for 450 voice minutes
Data Plan - $30/mo for unlimited 3G Data
So at minimum, you’re paying $70/mo. This probably won’t even satisfy most users who use more than 450 minutes a month. The next plan up is a $20 jump so you’re now paying $90/mo.
Yes, while every other piece of technology gets cheaper every day, somehow cell phone plans just keep getting more and more expensive.
Let’s compare this to Sprint’s offering:
The Sprint SERO plan (which anyone can get by going to a Sprint store and retrieving an employee’s phone number from their business card) is like this:
Voice Plan - $30/mo for 500 Minutes
Data Plan - included/ Unlimited
Text Messaging - included/Unlimited
So $30 on Sprint or $70 on AT&T (and keep in mind AT&T isn’t even throwing in unlimited free texting).
Ok, so this SERO plan scam involves a wee bit of fraud, but we noticed something similar with no ethical dodges.
But that’s not what I find intriguing here.
The interesting bit is using complexity as a weapon. It’s a legal dodge, brilliantly executed by cellular companies and perfected by AT&T. Plan comparison is pretty much impossible, and you won’t know the real price until the 3rd or 4th statement. The scheme worked for AT&T; despite lower costs and better, though not great, service, Sprint is bleeding customers and AT&T shares are rising.
Sprint is no angel of course. They’ve been sued for their deceptive contract swap practices. They haven’t been as clever as AT&T, however, at using the complexity weapon.
It’s not just Sprint that has fallen to the Empire.
Apple’s original iPhone plan was a blessed ray of light in the darkness. Crystal clear pricing, flat data services – water to a thirsty man.
No more. Now plans are through AT&T. The Empire has struck back. Apple has been, for now, defeated.
Ahh, but Apple is no angel either! They increase the cost of the iPhone, while advertising "price cuts". They use the complexity of cell phone pricing plans to deceive the naive and the overwhelmed.
Our society has to figure out how manage the complexity demon. It will take one heck of a consumer revolt to put it down.
Maybe an Obama victory will give us the energy to fight back …
Update 5/10/08: There is a precedent, though it's only partially encouraging. At one time home sales were encumbered with similarly incomprehensible contracts. This led to requirements to provide total cost estimates. So the contracts are still complex, but at least there are fewer shocks.
Update 6/11/08: In comments Sam points out that Sprint is "in" on the SERO gimmick, so it's not as shady as I made it sound. He also recommends 2600 The Hacker Quarterly as a weapon against the vile trickery of the Empire. I believe he's referring to Gaming AT&T Mobility. The journal is paper only (interesting topic worthy of comment) so I'll have to see if a local library has a copy.Update 6/11/08b: Return of the Jedi? Don Reisinger speculates that this is stage of one AT&T/Apple divorce proceedings. Now that would be sweet ...
Update 6/12/08: Great comment here - complexity as a strategic tool in other settings.
Update 6/15/08: Ars tries to compare the iPhone cost to other 3G phones. Superficially it's comparable, but read the comments. Sprint (SERO, as above) and others offer many complex and "secret" options with deep discounts. So the iPhone list price is comparable to other 3G phones and services, but their prices may be deeply discounted.