If calling and messaging plans were cheaper, I would pay for more data

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: January 19, 2012

Yesterday, I wrote about the possibility of Verizon Wireless offering a "drip-casting" data perk, in which users are not charged for large downloads if they plan ahead and sacrifice the typical on demand downloading we've grown accustomed to with smartphones. Naturally, as I'm hardly ever one to plan ahead, especially when it comes to downloading things, I explained that drip-casting would only affect and appeal a small portion of users. And I insisted that since wireless providers continue to offer absurdly low data caps with relatively large price tags, that they at least need to compromise and offer some promotional deals that help power users.

That said, data pricing is only half the battle, so I've decided to continue yesterday's quasi-rant.

In several previous articles, I've noted how the average calling plan has remained the same price. It's almost as if wireless providers have completely ignored the fact that data services have surpassed voice calling as the primary method for communication for a large number of users. And I'm sure they're hoping no one will notice.

The lowest available voice plan offered to individuals on Verizon Wireless is $39.99 per month. The next step up is 900 minutes, which costs customers $59.99, and an unlimited minute plan costs $69.99. For shared plans (which includes the first two lines), 700, 1,400 and 2,000 minutes will cost users $69.98, $89.98 and $99.98 per month, respectively. Each additional line, which spreads the existing minutes out between more people without adding additional minutes to the pool, runs $9.99 per line. Unlimited minutes for a family plan will cost $119.98, and each additional line costs $49.99.

Doing the math, with the smallest possible voice plan for an individual, a customer will pay $479.88, before taxes, per year (or $959.76 for the length of the agreement) for minutes alone.

When it comes to text messaging, individual messaging plans start at $10 per month for 1,000 texts. The only other options are unlimited text messages for $20 per month or pay as you go for $0.20 per SMS and $0.25 per MMS. Shared plans are limited to a $30 unlimited messaging plan, unless each line pays for text messaging separately. I would imagine that most people would just opt for unlimited messaging, but for the sake of correctness, we will low-ball and say that at on a minimum messaging plan, an individual will pay $240 in text messages for the length of their contract.

Before, I have explained that instant messaging is, in essence, very similar to text messaging. The major difference is the channels they are sent through. But if you compare size and price, SMS is outrageously overpriced. The average text message is only one kilobyte, or one-thousandth of a megabyte. If you send, say, 5,000 text messages in a month, you will only use roughly 5MB of data. However, you are still paying $20 (or more a lot more) per month to send them. If you sent 5,000 SMS without a plan, it would cost you $1,000. To send the equivalent of 5MB in instant messages, it would only cost you $0.075 (calculated using Verizon's 2GB plan for $30 per month).

I don't mean to target Verizon Wireless here, by any means. All major US carriers are roughly on the same price scale when it comes to voice calling and text messaging. These prices have been in place for many years now and are in dire need of an update. The fact of the matter is, I would have no problem paying more for more data (that's for more bits overall, not more per bit) if voice and messaging plans were priced more appropriately.

The four people on my shared family plan can comfortably be on a 1,400 minute plan. The only smaller plan available offers 700 minutes, and we could easily eat through that. Personally, I don't use a lot of minutes, but my mother, sister and grandmother are all talkers at heart. The majority of our minutes fall under some promotional feature like mobile to mobile or nights and weekends, but cutting back our minutes doesn't allow us to use our phones worry-free. On top of the $110 per month that we pay for the shared voice plan (plus two lines), we pay for four data plans and unlimited text messaging. That totals out to $260 per month, before accounting for taxes and the small discount we get.

I'm not complaining that the bill is too high. It is what it is. We're power users and we have to expect to pay a premium price. But whole system is backwards and upside down for the way most of us use our phones in 2012. We still share voice minutes and text messages while paying for data packages individually. Five years ago, when very few people had smartphones and people were calling instead of texting or instant messaging, this made perfect sense. But all four of us have smartphones – just like Verizon wants – and we should be sharing our data packages, lumping it all into one, and paying for voice packages separately. I, for one, would leave voice calling off, or drop it to the bare minimum, and I would spend the money I would have spent on minutes for more data. And if I could, I would completely quit text messaging altogether and use IM instead.

Now, this is all theoretical. I have a grandfathered, unlimited data plan on Verizon, so I can't possibly pay for more data. But I think I speak for everyone when I say that if a voice plan was unlimited for around $20, I would be more prone to pay for those larger data plans.

And would it hurt wireless providers to start offering larger data plans for power users? Not everyone would jump on a 20GB plan for north of $100. But rest assured some would. I see commenters and Twitter users claiming to use north of 20GB per month. Power users like that won't last long on even largest of tiered plans, Verizon's 12GB plan with hotspot – 20GB would cost them over $180 per month for data alone.

It's high time voice and messaging plans start to come down. We're using less and less of them every month and continue to pay the same, regardless. What say you, guys and gals? Do you think we overpay for text messaging? Voice calling? Should minutes and texts cost less per use? Would you pay for more data if you didn't have to pay so much for minutes?