Monday, June 24, 2013

Out, Damned Spot

Many of you know that at this blog, we’re sideliners when it comes to the Great Smartphone Storm of the aughts and not aughts.
While nearly everyone around us enjoys poking all day long at their tiny little screens that bring the world to their palm while the rest of the world evolves around them, we’re limited to streaking from place to place, trying to find inadequately powered public wi-fi to which we can connect our tablets and remain connected to the world at large. Ah, first-world problems abound . . .
But my wife is now facing five weeks at scout camp, and though she has our trusty T-mobile pay-as-you-go brick to take with her, she’d dearly love to be able to send the occasional email, check Facebook, and otherwise stay connected while she’s doling out starch from the commissary.
Alas, it is not to be.
A year ago, we were given a Virgin Wireless wi-fi hot spot. Turns out it’s not so hot in the boonies where the scout camp is located. So I got to looking at other options and after a few hours of poking through phones and plans, I have to wonder: How do the rest of you afford all this?
Verizon, which has the best signals at Island Park Scout Camp, is ridiculously overpriced. For a simple wi-fi hot spot, they want $50 for the device (that I could swallow) plus $30 a month for 4GB of data, on a month-to-month basis. That in of itself I can also swallow. I can also eat the one-time $35 activation fee, because those Activation Fairies have to be paid too, you know. But they also want another $20 a month for the privilege of having the device. Ostensibly, it’s so we could connect it to up to ten other wireless devices, but with limited data, why would you want to? So $50 a month, that’s a no-go.
I thought, well, maybe a Verizon phone would be cheaper. No. That bumps the price up to $100 a month for less data, and for a “you’re privileged to have this device” fee of $40 a month.
So because I’m a cheap bastard, I next went to Wal-Mart, where I found, for $45 a month, I could offer her an Iphone 4 (yes, two models back, but no biggie) with unlimited data and talk, month-to-month. All we need is the $449 beans to pay for the obsolete phone, and whammo, we’ve got, well, a big crater in our budget.
T-mobile has spoiled us. We have a basic phone that for as little as $50 a year, we can make calls and play an annoying little bowling game. That’s it. But because that’s all we’ve needed for so long, it’s hard to pry open the checkbook to lay out, well, gobs of money a month for something we’d use only occasionally. I know there are other wi-fi hot spot devices out there, but every one I’ve investigated is best geared towards cities, not rural areas like, say, scout camps. So we go wanting.
Are we not yet to the point this service is so ubiquitous it should start sliding down the expense scale? Our home internet, to which we’ve tethered a multitude of devices, isn’t nearly that expensive. Why do cell phones have to be? Yes, there are arguments about bandwidth and exponential explosions in the use of cell phones for data, and bottlenecks and all other types of excises. But come on. These prices have been high for years. Certainly some of that money has gone into infrastructure?
Wired presents some eye-blistering charts that discuss price comparisons between the US and other countries here. But they don’t answer my question – but a quick internet search shows that folks have been asking questions like this since the smartphone explosion, without relief.
Shills try to explain that plans are more expensive in the US because most US carriers subsidize the cost of the phone, whereas in other countries where plans are cheaper, folks buy their phones outright. My Wal-Mart experience proves otherwise, so keep on shilling, folks. And even if I buy the phone or hot spot device outright from Verizon, the month-to-month prices are still the same. Don’t believe the shills.

And, yes, I have looked at Republic Wireless. They’re still in Virgin territory, coverage-wise. No good for us.

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