Stop iPhone Tyranny Now!
Salon‘s Farhad Manjoo notes the fight of one brave lawmaker to end the impossible tyranny of Apple and AT&T over the Must Have Gadget of the Century, the indispensable iPhone.
Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the committee, began the affair by holding up the phone and hailing its “sheer brilliance and wizardry,” noting that “undoubtedly consumers will cherish this device as though it is a part of their family.”
But the iPhone, Markey said, “highlights both the promise and the problems of the wireless industry today.” The phone sells for full price, yet owners get essentially no rights over how to use it; the phone forces you to sign a two-year contract with poorly ranked AT&T service, at pain of a $175 early-termination fee. “Many consumers feel trapped having bought an expensive device or having been locked into a long-term contract with significant penalties for switching,” Markey said. And it’s not just iPhone owners. Nobody likes their cell provider; people are sick of the fees, they’re sick of the stringent contracts, they’re sick of the bad cell signal. But what are you going to do? There are four large cell carriers in the U.S. — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — and none has customers who are particularly happy.
Ezra Klein remarks, “It’s really rather remarkable how totally we let cell phone companies screw us over.”
Truly, this is a national tragedy. If only — if only — there were some way to escape this abuse at the hands of our corporate overlords.
Now, some of you are probably thinking, “But, James, you don’t have to sign a long-term contract with AT&T. And you don’t have to get an iPhone. Generations of Americans have gotten along without them. And, if nobody buys one, Apple will change their business model.”
Now you’re just talking nonsense. Didn’t you read what Markey said about “sheer brilliance and wizardry”?! Plus, as Manjoo points out, AT&T has a veritable gun to your head, forcing you to give up your rights to chose other companies:
Many people might consider this a good trade; get a free phone, sign a long-term contract. But as Chris Murray, an attorney at Consumers Union, pointed out at the House hearing last week, wireless companies don’t give customers a choice over whether they want to take this deal. You can’t offer to pay full price for a handset in exchange for a reduced early-termination fee and an unlocked phone — no major firm will let you do that. Indeed, in some instances carriers will charge you a fee even when they don’t offer you any break on the price of the phone. The iPhone is the primary exhibit: AT&T doesn’t subsidize the price of the phone, but you’re still locked to a single provider.
So, you see, if you don’t enter into a contract with them, agreeing to do some stuff you’d rather not do, they won’t enter into a contract with you and give you the stuff you want from them.
That’s pretty harsh. It reminds me of when I was 15 and joined the Columbia House Record Club. They sent me 13 albums for a penny. Then, they had the audacity to expect me to buy six more albums from them — at prices higher than Wal-Mart charges for them — over the next three years plus pay shipping and handling. Sure, I knew that going into the deal but all I could see was “13 albums for a penny.” The rest of the deal was not to my liking. Boy, was I steamed.
Now, sure, I could get the really cool phone and cough up the extra $175 and break the contract with AT&T so that I could get the far, far better cell phone service offered by other companies — where they let you transmit not only voice but also text via “satellite signals.” But, sheesh, who wants to do that? There oughta be a law!
UPDATE: Triumph thinks the last option unavailable because Apple has “locked” the phone to protect the exclusivity given AT&T. While not part of Markey’s discussion, Manjoo notes that issue later in his piece. Apparently, there are numerous ways around it.
Still, I’m not sure how this is different than the “proprietary” game that Sony played unsuccessfully with BetaMax and Apple has played very successfully with the iPod. Ultimately, people buy the product under the terms it’s being offered or they don’t. If the product is good enough, people will put up with it. If a suitable substitute exists, they don’t.
For the record: I don’t own an iPhone and have no plans to buy one anytime soon. I have had cell service with AT&T (mostly, under the Cingular name) for years. My two year contract is actually up and I’m going month-to-month for now.