Wireless Regulation: Great, and Terrible

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Let's get one thing straight: There's plenty to be angry about with wireless carriers.

Wireless Regulation: Great, and Terrible
They charge too much for mobile roaming, they cripple VoIP applications that would steal away precious minutes, they hamstring applications that would use too much data, and they make us listen to obnoxious voice mail instructions just to soak up your minutes and make a few extra bucks.

But these recent complaints that wireless service flat-out costs too much and need to be regulated? Poppycock.

The argument goes that prices for wireless service have increased as carriers make exclusive deals with smartphone makers, and the service isn't getting any better. "Wireless carriers are charging more, but not improving the quality of network service with network buildouts and coverage," Free Press Policy Counsel Chris Riley told Computerworld in an interview.

Hold on. Carriers are improving their service, and I'm not even certain they're charging more. For the last four years, my minutes, text and data combo cost $60 a month. It never changed until I switched to the iPhone, and then I was able to have a better mobile phone experience for basically the same cost, thanks to a family plan.

People like to cite a study that says the United States is one of the most expensive countries for cell phone use, but the wireless industry rightly points out that when you break usage down by minute, we've actually got it pretty good. In other words, the amount we use our phones justifies the high cost.

Complaints over cell phone costs amount to little more than everyone wanting everything to be cheaper. But guess what? There's this thing called demand, and if the wireless industry has it, more power to them. Cell phones are, for the most part, a luxury, not a utility. And unless I'm missing some glaring evidence, there's no collusion going on that is uniformly driving wireless prices up.

That's not to say the government shouldn't muscle in on the gripes I mentioned above. If I'm paying $30 a month for mobile data, I want to use that data as I please. That includes tethering, MMS, and VoIP. If wireless carriers are worried that these uses would severely hamper their 3G networks, they should at least have to go before Congress and prove it. I want to know that the carriers are looking after their infrastructure and not merely trying to prevent me from dodging overseas roaming charges by using Google Voice.

So yes, I want it both ways, because for everything that's wrong with wireless service in the United States, it's still a pretty good deal.

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