If you have begun seeing a chiropractor to help deal with heftier SMS bills over the past couple years, US Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) feels your pain. This chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee has called out the four largest US wireless carriers in a letter, asking them to explain the steep, bewildering increase of text messaging charges.
Kohl's letter, addressed to the presidents and CEOs of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, begins with the gist of the overall complaint that we all share: in three years, text message charges have doubled for wireless customers. Per-message plans in 2005 typically cost 10¢ per message, but after a number of acquisitions that lowered the number of national carriers from six to four, those messages now cost 20¢, with Sprint being the first to raise its rates last fall.
Ars Technica spoke with a staffer on the subcommittee (who wished to remain anonymous) about the letter, and the conversation centered on what happens if the carriers' explanations aren't up to snuff. Senator Kohl gave the carriers until October 6, 2008, to respond, and Kohl's office assured us that "this letter is more of an opening of the discussion about these issues" for now. "We have an open line, and we aren't condemning them without hearing what they have to say," the staffer told Ars.
Kohl's letter calls the industry-wide text messaging rate increase "particularly alarming" because there is no apparent justification from cost or technical standpoints. Over the years networks have improved and become more robust, and a steady increase in customers has bolstered the bottom line. But after all this time, text messages are still limited to 160 characters; a figurative fraction of a drop in the wireless bucket.
Kohl's office is asking each carrier to explain the method behind the text message rate madness, including any cost, technical, or other factors that justify the 100 percent increase between 2005 to 2008. Kohl also wants data on how text messages are utilized, comparisons of how text message packages stack up against competitors, and—perhaps most importantly—price comparisons against per-minute charges for voice plans, and per-KB charges for mobile Internet and tethering plans. It should be fun to hear AT&T defend why it charges over $1,300 per megabyte for text messages.
Again, Kohl's office made it clear that this letter is more of an conversation starter (though a fairly forceful one) in what could turn out to be an embarrassing (for the carriers) discussion over high cost of text messages. The staffer did, however, hold out the possibility of further investigation, and even a request that antitrust regulators to look into the matter, should the situation call for it.Posted on