Recently, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue wrote a blog article (and made, with help from his Twitter followers, a video) highlighting just some of the many, many things wrong with the cell phone industry beyond just the exclusivity contracts currently being investigated by Congress.
In response, Mr. Lowell C. McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, sent Mr. Pogue’s boss, New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, an open letter rebutting these complaints. Except for the fact that he didn’t actually rebut any of Mr. Pogue’s complaints. Instead, he made up his own “myths”, and debunked them with his own opinions. Not exactly the same thing. So I’ll give the same treatment to Mr. McAdam, except I will actually address the topics he brings up instead of conveniently ignoring them:
Myth #1: Americans pay more for wireless service.
Europeans don’t pay for calls or text messages that they receive. Americans do. So okay, I could choose to not answer a call from a number I don’t recognize, and then I wouldn’t be charged for it (except indirectly if I call into the voicemail to check any message left). But text messages don’t give me that option. If a spammer sends me a text message, and I don’t have one of those ludicrous text messaging “plans”, then I’m out 20 cents whether I like it or not. This is patently unfair.
Myth #2: The Wireless sector of the technology industry is not competitive.
His answer to this is that Al Gore says it is. Sorry, dude, that’s not an argument. Exclusivity deals keep consumers bound to a provider if that is the only provider offering a particular handset (yes, I’m talking about AT&T and the iPhone; isn’t everyone else?). 2 year contracts keep me tied to my provider if I want to switch for any reason, including needing to upgrade a broken or lost phone with a different model not offered by my current carrier. Lack of decent coverage by some of the smaller, hungrier carriers such as Cricket mean I’m tied to the big boys if I want to know my phone will work in a major urban area or a small rural area. Just because Al says it’s competitive, doesn’t mean it’s so.
Myth #3: Wireless customers are treated badly.
An 84% approval rating may be stellar in politics, but in customer service it’s meh. At least, it should be. A company’s motto (coined by Scott Bourne) should not be “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.” My own dealings with AT&T customer service have found them to be a massive monolith of corporate “We say so” bureacracy. Does that sound like I’m satisfied with them?
Myth #4: The big wireless companies don’t pay attention to rural America’s needs.
Here, Mr. McAdam touts Verizon’s dedication to expanding their network. In my pre-iPhone days, both I and my mother had Verizon and we could not use our cell phones inside her rural-ish-but-not-quite southern New Jersey house, and we’re not talking Timbuktu here, we’re talking 40 miles from Philadelphia! Cingular, AT&T’s predecessor, had ZERO coverage in Fremont, California, the fourth largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I understand the situation has not improved with their acquisition of AT&T’s network. It’s a simple fact that wireless companies go where the money is, and the money is just not in areas with sparser populations even though they would benefit the most from having reliable wireless phone coverage.
None of this actually covers any of Mr. Pogue’s charges (outrageous pricing for text messages, the way phone subsidies work, etc.). I’m still waiting to see answers to those issues.