The Nightmarish Reality of Data Billing and a Dream for a Better, More Universal, Future

by Matt Klassen on June 7, 2010

Have you ever stopped to consider how much your technological lifestyle costs you? While I have no doubt that the number is enough to send you spiraling into a deep depression, what is even more disconcerting is the fact that, upon closer examination, it turns out that your various tech bills are, in actuality, charging you for exactly the same thing…data.

With most households utilizing multiple mobile phones, high-speed Internet access, and even digital TV, the money spent paying these bills means that you’re essentially paying for access to the same data two or three times over—and often times to the same company! Isn’t it about time that we disconnected our access to data from the devices we use? Shouldn’t we be allowed to draw on our allotted data with whatever device we choose?

However, while we all hope that the future of technology billing leads to what CNET blogger Molly Wood calls a Universal Data Plan, one that would see data allotted to a particular customer instead of a particular device, with both AT&T and Verizon reigning in their mobile wireless plans and doing away with unlimited data service, it seems like the industry is moving in exactly the wrong direction.

Consider this, for customers of any of the top four wireless carriers in America (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) you have your standard (hear mandatory) mobile call plan. On top of this plan come your data usage fees, meaning that if you want to use your phone for anything else besides phoning people, you’re already paying more. Now perhaps you’re interested in staying connected to your friends through texting. Good idea, but it’ll cost you too, although texting uses exactly the same data feed that all your other data is coming through. If that’s not enough, just add your digital HD TV subscription on top of that, as digital cable is simply yet one more data delivery service.

The point being, of course, why can’t we pay one flat rate, one bill for an allotted amount of data that we can use with our computer’s internet access, mobile device, or digital cable? Imagine for a moment that you were forced to pay for Internet access on each computer in your house, or charged a fee every time you wanted to connect a gaming console to your TV. It’s almost unthinkable, yet it’s that same absurdity, unfortunately, that is alive and well in the billing practices of every American wireless broadband company.

It is exactly this sort of nonsense that has the FCC up in arms, and eliminating double or even triple tapping customers for access to the same data is one of the primary motivations behind the FCC’s always controversial Net Neutrality plan.

While I agree with Ms. Wood on the fact that such universal data plans may very well be part of the future of our technological lifestyle, they certainly are not part of its present. In fact, with most wireless companies moving back towards more rigid metered data use, such universal data plans may be still quite a long way off.

But with that said, the challenge has been issued, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Its time for these companies to provide their customers with data plans tethered to individual accounts instead of individual devices. We pay for our data; now let us use it how we want too!

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