What's the point, carriers?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: July 19, 2013

Change is hard to come by. We may want it, and we may clamor for it, but it's something that's simply hard to see manifest outside of our daydreams. We'd like our carriers, any and all of them, to change in some way or another, because none of them are perfect. But no business is. There is always going to be something that hangs up one customer or another. We want it, but change is a rare mineral in the wireless industry.

What's even harder, though, is finding change that actually matters. Matters in a positive way. When we walk into a wireless carrier's retail store, or even get service through a third party or online, we're casting our boat out into their artificial sea. We just let the currents take us, because there's not much else we can do. If they enact changes, manifested in single moments with gentle waves or disastrous tsunamis, we are at their mercy. The contract binds us. The contract is an anchor nestled into the bed of that artificial sea, and we are left to brave any storms that may evolve over the course of 24 months.

But we want change. Despite the fact it could mean a precarious situation for us, where we could indeed be faced with even higher costs every single month, we still hope for the best. And that's just the hard truth. We expect certain companies to do things for us. We hope for the best, and we close our eyes so tightly when we dream of the day that we won't be paying "too much" for our wireless service.

Not too long ago, I asked you if you planned on switching carriers this year. I asked this in direct relation to the initiatives these carriers are launching, all of which are, at face value, meant to help you upgrade faster. Carriers know you want a new phone, faster, and more often, so they're trying to accommodate you. Except, they aren't trying. They're acting like they're trying. Or something.

I can barely say that's the case.

When I wrote earlier this week about upgrading more often, and that I was excited about the idea of more people being able to switch phones more often, I wanted the point of the article to reflect my excitement about the idea, and about the change that T-Mobile is causing in the mobile industry. I am not excited about the plans, or the details therein to be specific. In theory, the plans are fantastic. In reality, not so much. As our own Anna Scantlin articulated in regards to AT&T's Next initiative, not everything is as shiny as the carriers would have you believe.

I am excited that T-Mobile is causing Verizon and AT&T, two companies that --realistically-- probably don't even see the Magenta carrier as a serious "competitor," to react. That's the only reason these initiatives exist. Because T-Mobile is grabbing up plenty of attention with their UNcarrier movement, and Big Red and Big Blue realized they needed to jump on the bandwagon.

The problem is they did it exactly like Verizon and AT&T should, and have actually changed nothing at all. Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that no one is going to use these plans, because people will. Paying in monthly installments will work for some, and that's what they'll do. They may do it just because they want the ability to upgrade faster, without paying full retail cost up front. It's just that simple. And we can't fault them for that. That's the consumer's prerogative, and we'll call it a day on that topic.

The thing is, even Verizon's Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo doesn't think their new wireless initiative, EDGE, will have any impact on Verizon's financials. Shammo also believes that a large majority of Verizon Wireless subscribers won't switch to the EDGE program, simply because they like to have contracts, the up-front subsidy, and upgrade every two years. Basically, Shammo believes most Verizon customers are accustomed to the ways of now, and won't be changing the way they do things.

And Shammo is probably right. So, here's my question: What is the point?

Because, as I'm looking at these plans, and I'm watching the Internet talk about them, and I'm talking to wireless retail sales representatives, I'm simply not seeing the point. And then when the CFO of one of the carriers points out that nothing much will change, the question just gets enflamed.

What is the point?

If Verizon, or AT&T for that matter, weren't actually, legitimately trying to change the way that consumers buy phones from them, and they weren't ultimately hoping to change things in a permanent fashion, why do these initiatives even exist? Because of T-Mobile? Really? Is that it?

"Well, they're doing it, so we might as well just do something like it."

That's not good enough, and is just completely pointless. These plans don't make any sense. What happens if this talk about the subsidy fee, which is baked into current contracts, doesn't go away and someone notices it on their first monthly bill after they've signed up for AT&T's Next or Verizon's EDGE? They suddenly went from paying that low monthly installment to paying more, which would defeat the whole purpose, right? After all, if I walk out thinking I'm only going to be paying $24, but I'm really paying $44 or more, well, we've got a problem.

I don't see the point of starting something that doesn't make a bit of difference. I just see it as a waste of time. But, I'm sure the carriers consider it "options," and they'll call it good on those grounds. And that's probably exactly what it is. The Big Two carriers now give you more options to get your next smartphone. No harm in that, right?


In any event, let me know what you think of Verizon's, AT&T's and T-Mobile's new monthly installment initiatives, or early upgrade initiatives, or any other colorful title you can give these new "plans." Do you think they're the next best thing since sliced bread? Will you be taking advantage of it? Or are you staying as far away from them as you can? Let me know.