My dad sent this to me, very god take on the industry, worth the read.
Are We Losing Control of our Computers?
When you bought your PC, you could get any model you wanted, from any hardware vendor. Then you could connect it to any ISP that offered service to your area. You can upgrade it to a new operating system if you want - or you can keep the old one as long as you want. When you set it up, you create an administrative account that you can use to make changes to the system and tweak the way the operating system works. You can install any software on it that you choose, as long as it's written for your OS and you buy or obtain a license for the application.
But what if your ISP would only allow you to connect computers that you bought from them? And what if they only offered a handful of different models, so that if you wanted to use a Dell XPS, you would have no choice but to use your cable company as your ISP? Even worse, what if you were only allowed to operate your computer as a regular user, and not allowed to perform any tasks that require administrative control? What if you couldn't install programs on your Dell that hadn't been approved by Dell and weren't sold through them, and if you installed an "unauthorized" program, Dell would automatically update your software and disable it? What if your ISP wouldn't allow you to install a Voice over IP application because they wanted you to have to pay the phone company for phone service? Or worse, what if they did let you install Skype, for instance - but charged you for using it?
You might get indignant at the very thought of a vendor trying to exert that much control over your device that you purchased. No one would ever stand for such a thing, you might say. But most of us are in fact standing for that sort of treatment right now, from our cell phone carriers. Smartphones are not just phones - they're handheld computers. The cellular companies serve as ISPs for those miniature computers, and they exercise iron clad control over them. Want to gain administrative privileges to your Android or iOS operating system (also known as "jailbreaking" or "rooting" your phone)? That will void your warranty - and up until the recent ruling that explicitly exempted this practice from the DMCA provisions, it was a criminal offense. I wrote about that back in July in our sister publication, Win7News.
That ruling was certainly a victory for consumers, but it only removes criminal penalties. Your phone vendor and cellular provider are still free to issue updates that will undo what you've done, to refuse to service your jailbroken/rooted phone and even to hold you in breach of contract and cancel your service for taking control of your device.
If our phones were merely phones, this might not be a big deal - although consumers always tend to balk at being micromanaged and overprotected by giant corporations. I know I'm showing my age here, but I still (vaguely) remember when you couldn't buy a telephone and plug it into your home phone jack. You had to rent your phones from Ma Bell and if you wanted something other than the standard desk phone or "princess" model, the best you could do was buy a phone housing (the exterior shell) and then the phone company would install the "guts" into the phone - for which you still had to pay the monthly rental fee - and connect it to your phone line. Customers didn't like that, and the old business model gave way to modular jacks and the ability to buy a telephone, inexpensively, at any discount store.
That history proves that it is possible to change those types of business practices, through customer protests that may ultimately result in legislation forcing the companies to give those customers more control. Can it happen with the cell phone companies? Let's hope so, because we seem to be moving toward a world in which our phones and other cellular devices are increasingly taking the place of our home computers. A little less than a year ago, the chief executive of Symbian predicted that the PC is on its last legs and will eventually be replaced by wireless devices.
There will always be those who want and need full fledged desktop computers for work, heavy gaming and other special purposes, but it's been interesting to watch consumers moving toward first netbooks and now tablets like the iPad over the last few years. Those who rarely need to do more than check email, update Facebook and look up things on the web can get along just fine with a small, (relatively) cheap device like a tablet or smartphone. Of course, in many cases the reason it's cheap is because it's being subsidized by the wireless carrier. AT&T or Verizon sells you a $599 phone for $199 on the condition that you lock yourself into a two year contract for service. That alone would be okay, but another consequence of the subsidy is that the companies seem to believe they - not we - own our phones. Perhaps if we bought those phones straight from the vendors (Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola) at full price and could buy service for them from any cellular company we pleased (as they can do in Europe), the carriers wouldn't take such a paternalistic attitude.
Because, of course, they claim that all this control is "for our own good." We're all so stupid that we would screw up our phones beyond help if we were allowed to have admin control over them. We would fall prey to all those rogue apps and get horrible viruses that would spread through the cellular network and decimate the system. Not to mention the fact that we might install applications to give us things like wi-fi hotspot functionality without paying the company a huge monthly fee for that privilege, or use a VoIP application to make calls instead of eating expensive cellular minutes.
If you're a smartphone user with all the bells and whistles on your account, it can be downright scary when you take a look at how much you pay your cell phone company over the course of a year. Let's take a typical connected couple, with both people having phones on a Verizon family plan. If they don't talk much, the lowest priced voice plan they can get is for 700 minutes. That costs $100/month if you want text messaging, or $70/month for talk only. Data packages range from $10/month for 25 MB to $45/month (per phone) for the business data plan. Most will need at least the 30/month unlimited consumer plan, so now we're up to around $160/month. Let's say you have the Droid X phones and you want to be able to use your phones as wi-fi hotspots when you travel. That's $20/month more, per phone. What if you want GPS navigation? That's another $10/month, per phone. Now we're at $220/month. Tack on fees for Visual Voice Mail ($3/month) and VCAST video on demand ($10/month) and it's $246/month. Oh, and if you want insurance on those phones, add another $6- 8/month, for a total of around $260/month. That's over three thousand dollars per year - but wait! We haven't added in taxes and surcharges and all those other little special fees that can add 20-30% to your bill. Being optimistic and assuming only 20%, that brings your annual expenditure for cell phone service for two people to $3744, and that excludes the $400 you paid for those subsidized phones.
Of course, not all of us need or want all of those services, and costs vary depending on provider. Sprint, for instance, has a $99/month (per phone) plan that includes unlimited "everything" (talk, text, web, email). But then they charge an extra $10/month if you have a 4G capable phone like the HTC EVO (whether or not you're in an area that has 4G service) and $30/month for wi-fi hotspot capability. With insurance, your monthly charges for two come to $284 excluding the taxes and fees - and those EVOs cost you $300 each.
Okay, then what about an iPhone? Your family plan with 700 minutes costs $70/month (and you do get rollover). If you want to tether, the data plan is $45/month per phone, and unlimited texting is $30/month (for both phones on the family plan). AT&T Navigator is $10/month. In other words, the service prices are the same as Verizon's (coincidence?) and your iPhone 4 costs $200- 300 each, depending on whether it has 16GB or 32GB of storage (better spring for the 32, since there's no microSD slot).
No matter how you cut it, full featured smart phone service with a major carrier costs a lot. Is it worth it? Apparently, to many of us it is. But for that kind of money, you would think we would be making more of a fuss over some of the inane restrictions the cell phone companies put on us. Tell us what you think. Why do we put up with treatment from wireless carriers and cell phone vendors that we would never tolerate from regular Internet Service Providers and PC makers? Do you see the situation improving in the future, or will the cellular companies have even more of a stranglehold on their customers as we become more dependent on our wireless devices? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forums at