“They fuck you with cell phones. That’s what it is. They’re fuckin’ you with the cell phone. They love it when you get cut off. Y’know why, huh? You know why? ‘Cause when you call back – -which they know you’re gonna do. – -they charge you for that fuckin’ first minute again at that high rate. “
Above is the only line I remember from Lethal Weapon 4* and it’s highly applicable to my current dilemma.
My family has been with a certain large wireless carrier** since the first cell phone we had (an ancient Nokia which I remember fondly because I inherited it to call home with in college–it was also the same phone that’s featured fin the X-Files PC game. Mulder and Scully used my cell phone for a few years there. How’s that fun, useless info?). We went with this carrier mostly because my Dad’s company was using it, and there’s been a company discount, plus, it meant calls to his phone would be free.
For the most part this has worked out. Being the luddite I am, I kept with the basic phone for several years after it was passé, but finally, in order to get in on the last of the unlimited data plans, I went for the smart phone in 2011. And I’ve loved the thing. It’s been my GPS, my note taking device, my way to read e-books while I eat lunch, my way to keep up with telenovelas and has, generally, saved my sanity over the past couple of years.
But, all good things must come to an end, and in my case, the end was my phone’s ability to charge. I’ve tried all known fixes (yes, kids, I have cracked open a cell phone and replaced parts because I’m not a girl to be cowed by something that involves very tiny hex keys). But, it’s bricked.
I was prepared to upgrade to a new phone and to lose the unlimited data plan***. I was NOT prepared for the increase in cost for so much less than I used to have. Nor was I prepared for the cascading impact on my brother’s data plan. Simply put, this is bullshit.
I have thought of going pre-paid for a while now. There’s some weird stigma attached to prepaid wireless, but that pretty much exists only in the USA. You don’t do the long term contracts-of-doom in Australia or Europe. Everything there is pretty much pre-paid. You buy a sim card, and re-charge it as necessary (in Australia, internet is the same way for most people, at least in the area where my parents live). The more I do the math, the better a deal it seems I can get but booting this contract bullshit. I’ve always taken a dim view of any “contract” I can’t fuckin’ negotiate (at least not without some kind of epic slogging through layers of corporate bureaucracy–“everything is negotiable” does work in some instances, but my attempts in this case have led me to a wall of people with no authority to negotiate and no real interest in getting me to someone who does have the power–to be honest, on the phone, it’s been hell just finding a human instead of a bloody phone menu from hell).
A pre-paid plan will require more up-front for the device. On a contract, the true cost of your phone hardware is hiding within the per month cost of your contract. If you’re someone who regularly upgrades and gets a high-dollar phone each time, it may pay. But even with my ‘droid’s life being cut tragically short (hey, my cell phone before this lives on as my Mom’s US cell), I still got just shy of 4 years out of it–for the contractual cost I was paying, the “true” cost of the hardware was paid off somewhere in year one.
I’m looking now at buying an unlocked device, and then setting up with a pre-paid plan, probably through Wal-Mart (why Wal Mart? Same reason I buy tires there: if I have a problem, I can always find one). If my estimates are correct, the phone I’m looking at, plus a $45/month unlimited plan (which, as we’ve established is impossible to obtain from my current contract carrier) would cost me at least $620 less over three years than going through my current carrier and settling for 2 GB of data. If I choose a lesser device (or score a better deal on the one I’m eyeing), I’m pretty sure I can hit a difference of $1000. Plus, I get the option of carrying my unlocked device over-seas and buying a sim card there so I can use my phone on travel (and since I’ve still got Germany in my sights for 2014, this is a real plus) without the hassle of either trying to get the carrier to unlock it, or paying out the wazoo for an international plan for a month. I’ll also have the option to sample other pre-paid carriers if I’m not happy with my initial choice.
Downsides? Well, there’s the outlay for the device up-front. Yes, I am gainfully employed, but I do keep myself to a budget. Adjustments will be made for that initial cost. There’s also very few options for 4G LTE available for pre-paid. I can’t count this as too much of a downside, because my current phone was only 3G, and it sufficed for my needs–might matter more to someone who has been used to 4G speeds. I’ll have to remember to re-up each month. Not a huge deal. I mean, I have to pay the current bill every month. This will just mean setting a reminder on my phone. I’ve heard mixed reviews about coverage from these types of carriers. My initial choice, however, is pretty strong in my area. And since it works in conjunction with AT&T, I know from my extended family member that the places I frequent in Texas are covered, and my brother’s work phone is on that network because it’s the only carrier with coverage in their area (the rest of the company he and I work for is on the carrier I have for personal coverage–he get’s voice reception in his area, but his data coverage is total shit). Beyond that, well, if it doesn’t work, with an unlocked phone, I’ll have the freedom to temporarily find some carrier that does work, if I need it. There’s also a possible downside of multi-media texts (i.e. when people text photos or videos). Not sure the pre-paid carriers handle all those, and even if they do, I’ve been reading up on porting my number to Google Voice and then forwarding it to my phone (until I settle on a carrier, this prevents having to go through the whole number-porting debacle every time) which would cause issues with the MMS thing anyhow. I sent a handful of these sorts of texts and received maybe a half dozen or so in a year. I think this is small potatoes for the potential gains.
The worst part is that since the initial bricking, then waiting for the replacement part to arrive, trying the fixes, and then looking into the upgrade and getting the nasty shock of the potential new bill, I’ve been over 2 weeks with no cell phone. I would say this has been some kind of freeing experience that has made me re-examine my dependence on technology, but it really hasn’t. It’s mostly been a reminder of how nice it is to have a safety net. I was pretty nervous during that week of -14 temperatures knowing that if I broke down going to or from work (which takes me through rural areas with moderately long distances between houses/farms), I had no way to call for help. And even when I made it a point to avoid coming in early, or staying too late, so that I would be sure to have the flow of others going to or from work who might see me, these days the assumption is that everyone has a phone on them and that makes others a little less inclined to stop and help. Not really reassuring.
Hopefully, I’ll get this sorted out and be on the road to getting re-connected soon….So, if you’re trying to call me, hang in there. I’ll be back eventually.
*That’s a total lie. I remember way more lines from Lethal Weapon 4. I’m just not sure why I do.
**This carrier will be named once this is cleared up. As of this writing, I’m planning one last ditch effort to give them an ear-full and see if I can negotiate the monthly cost down. I doubt this will be successful though. UPDATE: It was Verizon, and since I couldn’t get a fucking human being on the phone after a half an hour of trying, further negotiation ceased. Un-surprisingly NOW we’re getting calls at home about what great offers they have and how they’d love to talk to us about bringing that line back.
***I have since found a work around where I could get a new phone AND keep the data plan, but there’s no guarantee how much longer it will be before the company does away with even that option, and at the same time the rest of my family doesn’t have this option available–they’re either already out of the unlimited data, or never got in.