Convergence Mobile

Mobile Internet: US Price Collusion?

I’m giving two presentations on Saturday at a Washington state high school, where I’ve been told the firewall will block my access not only to YouTube but to news sites like the Seattle PI and Times. So I thought I’d check into laptop data plans: surprise, they’re all* priced (basically) at the same exorbitant rate: 5GB throughout is $60 a month; all “smaller” rates are $40 per month and are 40 or 50 MB. I suppose that’s where they are arguing that they aren’t colluding?

* AT&T, Nextel/Sprint, Verizon. T-Mobile doesn’t offer this. Screenshots below the fold.

The eyebrow-raising part isn’t just the apparent price collusion: it’s the order-of-magnitude difference in some European prices, coupled with Europe’s much faster data networks.

Let’s compare, shall we, with Vodaphone UK: £15 a month (aka about $7.50 $30.00) for 3 GB usage when bundled. And it gets better (or worse, you choose). Speeds in the UK? “download speeds up to 7.2Mbps.” Speeds in the US? AT&T doesn’t tell you:

With DataConnect for your laptop – you can send and receive email, browse the Internet, and access your corporate intranet while on the go by connecting your laptop to the Internet over the AT&T wireless network. Service is not available at all times in all places. View Map and Coverage Limitations.

But most of AT&T is EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution), which is reportedly in the 200 – 325 kilobits per second range

OK, let’s check out Verizon (CDMA and Access Evolution Data Optimized, EV-DO):

EV-DO: fast downloads: typical speeds of 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps

Traveling outside of the BroadbandAccess coverage area? CDMA connectivity at “speeds bursting up to 144 Kbps, with typical speeds of 60 to 80 Kbps”

And Sprint/Nextel? They don’t tell you (at least on the plan cost page), but they are also EV-DO (where available) and probably CDMA where it isn’t. Just guessing.

The Other Prompt
One of my students told us that her friend in Greece has an inexpensive plan from Vodaphone, where she has a mobile phone, internet to her home, and internet on-the-go for her laptop. So I tried to find that plan, to compare prices. (My memory is that her bundle cost less than the simple data-only plan I was looking into for Saturday.)

Although I couldn’t find this bundle, what I did find made my eyebrows rise: the data plan for a cellphone is 3.5 Euros a month (that’s about $5-6).

The new Vodafone live! Internet Plus provides the real Internet experience for just €3.5/month (plus VAT), offering 30 MB/month for Internet browsing and unlimited access to Vodafone live! at any time of the day.

Turning back to our US carriers, for a look at data plans for phones — remember, the UK plan is about $5-6/month. Most US plans are about an order of magnitude (or more) more expensive

  • AT&T: 20 MB is $35 and 50MB is $45; Blackberry & PDA plans are more expensive
  • Nextel/Sprint: Unlimited voice, data, text, etc is $100 (just launched)
  • T-Mobile: $40 unlimited
  • Verizon: monthly access starts at $80 without texting, $100 with (like the Nextel/Sprint plan)

So, we’re way more expensive with much slower data service, even in our urban areas. Still. No end in sight, either, as our carriers continue to charge more and more (rates never go down, they always go up).

Promised Screenshots — AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, Verizon:




By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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