Sprint's New Smartphone Fee -- How 'Bout a Little Honesty?

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If you've read much news today, you've probably heard that Sprint is enacting a new premium data add-on that'll increase smartphone users' postpaid rates in order to enable the carrier to offer simple and affordable plans while maintaining its ever-expanding wireless network (whew!).

Confused yet? Allow me to translate: Sprint's smartphone data plans are going up by ten bucks a month.

Sprint announced the change via a press release this morning. The move isn't that big of a deal, necessarily -- Sprint will still offer unlimited data and continue to have cheaper smartphone plans than its competitors, in certain scenarios -- but if you ask me, the way the company's approaching the change is more than a little shifty.

Sprint's Smartphone Surcharge: The Perception Problem

Sprint Smartphone Data Charge

Sprint's new smartphone surcharge appears to stem from a couple of conflicting interests: Sprint wants to be able to tout its low-cost smartphone plans (pay $69.99 a month and get 450 minutes, unlimited data, and unlimited texts!). But Sprint also wants to charge its smartphone subscribers more for the data they're using -- something many carriers are starting to do.

So how do you accomplish both those goals without compromising? It's simple: You tack on a "premium data add-on" and leave the sticker price the same. You get to keep advertising those nice low rates while actually raising customers' bills by about 14 percent (in the case of users with that aforementioned $69.99 plan).

The concept of sneaky fees, of course, is nothing new. Car dealers use it all the time, as do cable companies, travel-booking sites, and -- you guessed it -- phone carriers. How else do you explain the "federal subscriber line charge" that's been on landline bills for decades? (Hint: there's nothing federal about it.) Even in the realm of wireless carriers, the practice is relatively common; Verizon, for example, has previously been cited by PCWorld for the vague "administrative charge" that appears on its subscribers' bills.

Even Sprint's smartphone surcharge isn't actually new; it's just newly expanded. Sprint had previously imposed the $10-a-month fee onto its 4G phones. What's changed is that the same fee will soon apply to all smartphones, starting with devices purchased after January 30.

Increasing rates is certainly within a company's rights. But let's quit the game-playing, guys, and just tell people what they're really paying. If I'm gonna shell out 80 bucks for your "$69.99 Everything Data plan," list the freakin' thing as $80 -- not $69.99 with a "$10 monthly fee" footnote on the following page.

A little honesty goes a long way.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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