Like any other business, wireless carriers operate to make a profit. Adriana wrote a great piece a few days ago about an unconfirmed rumor regarding Verizon and the potential for new, mandatory data plans, and at the time the article went to press, the story was a rumor in the finest sense of the word. According to the report, Verizon was planning to require a data plan on "enhanced multimedia phones." As it turns out, the rumor has become reality, and effective September 8th, those purchasing said devices will be required to select a data plan. For your information, these so called "enhanced multimedia phones" are defined as having an HTML web browser, EVDO Rev. A, a QWERTY keyboard, and a launch date after September 8th.
I have an interesting history with Verizon. I've always liked their product offering, and genuinely believe that they have a well-built network. Granted, coverage will always vary depending on where you are, and other carriers may offer better service in a given area, but overall, Verizon has always delivered. I'm not endorsing Verizon by any means; I can find positives and negatives with every wireless carrier, but Verizon's service has, for the most part, been spectacular. And they've won enough J.D. Power awards to prove it.
That being said, I've always thought that Verizon had an arrogance issue. Several years back, prior to the advent of unlimited text messaging, I asked a local representative when he expected to see unlimited messaging on the carrier. His response? "Ha ha, who do you think we are, Santa Claus?" Love it or hate it, that was the attitude that, in my opinion, defined Verizon for quite some time. Fast forward to 2007, and with the realization that other carriers were rapidly catching up to their established subscriber base (one word: iPhone), the attitude seemed to go away. Unfortunately, I see their latest data plan move as an attempt to regain that complex.
Let's get something straight: I don't have a problem with Verizon changing, raising, lowering, slicing, or dicing the cost of their mandatory smartphone data plans. Smartphones are data-centric devices, and as such, a data plan should be a requirement. What's more, a BlackBerry or an iPhone would be virtually useless without a data plan. What I do have an issue with is forcing dumbphone data plans on individuals who don't need them, and sticking them with cheap, bargain basement phones if they don't comply - which is exactly what they're doing with their new "enhanced multimedia phones" concept. "You don't want a data plan? Fine, that Motorola W485 over there has your name on it." From my perspective, it's a slap in the face to a large portion of their customer base, and ushers in some interesting concerns.
The core issue lies in Verizon's failure to realize that there are individuals who have no use for cellular data, but want a phone with a QWERTY keyboard for text messaging purposes. When it was time for my Grandmother to purchase a new device to replace her aging RAZR V3m, I recommended the LG enV3. Believe it or not, she sends upwards of 1,000 text messages a month, and I thought the QWERTY keyboard would work well for her. She purchased it, and has loved it from day one. Despite the fact that she's a text fiend, she doesn't touch the data portion of the device. A few weeks later, my Mother's upgrade eligibility date arrived, and again, I recommended the enV3 as a replacement to her LG VX8300. Both women text message on a regular basis, but have no use for the data (in fact, both asked me to block data on their accounts). More importantly, they're not going to pay for something that they don't use, so had this rule been in effect when they purchased the enV3's, they would have opted for a different device.
I don't even use data when I'm working with a non-smartphone. When I get the occasional urge to go back to a dumbphone, I do so - with minutes and text messaging alone. I've always refused the data plans on non-smartphones, as I have no use for browsing on a tiny screen. If I wanted to use a data device, I'd reach for my BlackBerry or my iPhone.
In another way, this could spell the end of "cool" phones for some children, as parents may be reluctant to agree to a $9.99 per month minimum add-on just to get the latest device. That adds up to $240 over the span of a two-year agreement; a lofty price for an unused feature. If today's parents are anything like mine were growing up, they'll be sacrificing style for price in droves. I can see a "you pay for it, or you don't get it" mentality surfacing across the Verizon family. And call me old fashioned, but when I was growing up, $10 was a lot of money. I'm sure things have changed, but paying for a useless feature is unacceptable, regardless of what generation you're in.
Perhaps I'm a bit paranoid, but I feel as if our wireless options in this country are gradually fading in favor of these "lunchbox" plans that carriers seem to be pushing on everyone. My 69 year old grandmother does not need unlimited minutes, data, and text messaging like someone who relies on their mobile device may. I have different wireless needs than my Mother, Grandmother, and the kid down the street, jumping up and down on his bed. I understand that the goal is to make a maximum profit, but there's only so far these carriers can go before individuals will start to search for other options - and in the recessionary economy that we're in, I'd be willing to bet that they're pushing the line. Have it crossed your mind why prepaid is booming as of late? If you answered "what you just said above is a main reason, Aaron," you would be on the right track.
So, my opinions aside, what say you? Do you agree with me in the idea that it's unfair to force the data plan on these "enhanced multimedia phone" users? Do you think it's wrong of me to bring it up? Do you care? Let's have a conversation - I'd love to hear your thoughts!