Wireless Companies Aren't Really Evil, They Only Act That Way

"We can't trust AT&T or the other wireless carriers to do the right thing, ever... And the reason is that the carriers are evil - pure and simple. They don't act in the best interests of users; they act in accordance with their own lazy self interests."

"And it’s time for this to stop."

These quotes were taken from Paul Thurrott's blog post from Saturday venting his and other Microsoft Windows phone customers' utter frustration with AT&T's refusal to update their phone's software. Thurrott is the news editor for Windows IT Pro.

Thurrott's beef is that even though AT&T is Microsoft’s premier carrier partner for Windows Phone, it is refusing to issue an available update to Windows Phone 8107 which corrects a number of bugs, including one that causes the onscreen keyboard to disappear when someone is typing. And according to Thurrott, AT&T's behavior is routine:

"AT&T ... has been the most aggressive about [blocking software updates]. In fact, it’s never immediately delivered a Microsoft software update to customers. Not once."

The reason seems to be about money, since AT&T wants its customers to buy a new mobile phone rather than updating (and keeping) an old one.

Well, blocking software updates to your mobile phone in order to force you to buy a new one is nasty, but if that behavior makes wireless carriers pure evil, I wonder what their refusal to stop the cramming ("the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill") of your mobile phone bill with deceptive charges makes them.

A disturbing story in Saturday's New York Times tells about how wireless companies (AT&T was, again, the prime culprit, but Verizon was mentioned too) are continuing to allow third-party companies to send text messages offering unsolicited services (like receiving your horoscope three times a week for only $9.99 per month) to its customers' mobile phones. While that is annoying enough, you also have to opt out of the unsolicited service being offered in the text message for you not to be charged for it, a fact which is usually written in the fine print at the bottom of the text message.

Your only recourse, if you failed to see that it was an opt-out text message, is to call the wireless company and tell them that you didn't order the service; that is if you noticed the charge on your phone bill in the first place.

And even if you do opt out, the Times adds, often the third party goes ahead and charges your phone bill for the service anyway.

Now, why would a wireless carrier like AT&T (or Verizon) allow third-party companies to do that? Yes, you guessed it, apparently the carriers make really good money on the deal.

In the Times article, a spokesperson representing AT&T at first denied that AT&T made any money off of cramming, but when the Times reporter repeatedly pressed the spokesperson to confirm her statement, she eventually responded by only saying:

"AT&T has no further comment at this time."

The Times reporter says in his next story he is going write about this:

"We will ask this question of the Federal Communications Commission and any carriers that will return our calls: Why wasn't cramming relegated to the dustbin of schemes - either by corporate fiat or force of law or litigation - years ago?"

Okay, so far we have blocking of software updates as pure evil, cramming as purer evil, and for our final example that we will label purest resident evil, we have a Today Show-MSNBC story about the outright refusal of the wireless carriers to blacklist stolen cell phones. According to the story, nearly 70 big US city police chiefs have sent a letter to federal government demanding that once phones are reported as stolen or lost that they be banned from being able to receive service anywhere. The reason is that there has been an epidemic of people having their cell phones stolen and often being beaten up in the process. Law enforcement hopes phones will be less of a prize to muggers if criminals know that they'll be useless within an hour of being stolen.

However, the wireless companies are refusing saying via its spokesperson at the CTIA - The Wireless Association that it is "not that simple" to do, even though it has been done with good effect in the UK for a decade, in Australia for several years, and most recently is set to begin in Costa Rica. That it is "not that simple" to do is a curious statement for CTIA to make given that the Vodafone Australia's web site implies the process is quite easy, and describes how simple it is for a customer to blacklist their lost or stolen phone.

In fact, the CTIA spokesperson with a perfectly straight face (you should watch the accompanying video) states in the story that before the wireless carriers blacklist mobile phones,

"We want to make sure that whatever we put in place works and it's effective and it is comprehensive."

In fact, the solution the CTIA thinks is needed has to be so comprehensive that apparently all the other countries in the world have to blacklist their mobile phones first before US wireless carriers will feel their blacklisting of mobile phones will be effective:

"Let's make sure we get, for example, Mexican service providers, Central American, South American, African, Chinese."

And surprise, surprise, the not so hidden secret is that, once more, it is all about money. Why blacklist a phone when it can be reactivated and generate more revenue for a wireless carrier?

Why the FCC doesn't step in and force wireless carriers to blacklist any mobile phone reported lost or stolen is beyond me given that it apparently disapproves of the practice, although I would venture a guess it is all about the lobbying money aimed there too. Maybe the Times reporter can ask the FCC about blacklisting while he's at it.

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