Why is Sprint just now starting to charge a data fee?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 18, 2011

I've gone over the history of Sprint's comeback several times through now. It was a complete turnaround and a very impressive one at that. In a little under a year, Sprint changed their price plans; gave their respective customer service and online technical support agents an attitude adjustment; and reformed their smartphone lineup. Not to mention they started offering annual upgrades to premier customers on two-year contracts. Pretty sweet deal, huh?

Since the launch of the EVO Sprint has charged a $10 premium data fee for all 4G smartphones. People put up a big fuss over this complaining that they were still having to pay for 4G even though it wasn't available in their area. A valid argument that was met with the stiff backhand of a company in need of more money. It was in black and white. If you were a customer that signed the contract for a 4G device, you were either stuck with the $10 fee for the remainder of your contract, or you could swallow the ETF with your pride.

The next fiasco on Sprint's agenda is them throwing in a $10 fee for all smartphones. Of course, if you're already paying that fee for a 4G device, you have nothing to worry about. Rather than Sprint not letting you 4G guys off the hook with your fees, they're going to make everyone pay for data. So why is Sprint just now charging for data? Their explanation is simple, and likely a result of the headbutt with Clearwire in November:

"The charge will assist Sprint in offering simple and affordable unlimited plans for its customers while maintaining a wireless network able to meet the growing appetite for a richer mobile experience."

This fee shouldn't come as a surprise. Sprint has been slashing prices for well over a year now. Turning the company around and undercutting the competition doesn't come without consequences. Offering everything for less than the competition has left their wallets pretty thin.

The one big problem is that many people have been using Sprint's data for no extra charge for quite some time. Come upgrade time, they're going to be met with an extra fee. For some, it might be substantial enough to make them move carriers. Take a family plan with five smartphone lines for example. The next time they all upgrade, that could make their plan up to $50 more per month. If that isn't enough to make someone start shopping around, I don't now what is.

Sprint has every right to charge this fee, though I won't agree they've gone about this in the best manner. They have effectively drawn thousands of people in only to tell them that next time, they will be paying more. This $10 fee should have gone across the board long ago. Now Sprint will have to deal with a handful of very upset customers, and I'm sure they will face some subscriber losses. Nonetheless, their WiMAX network needs some work and Sprint and Clearwire need the funds to do it. They won't be able to afford the 4G upkeep if they keep offering up data for no extra charge. What do you think about the $10 data fee? Will you willingly pay it, or will it be the end of the Sprint line for your family?