Breach Out and Touch Someone

This ran in Newsday and the LA Daily News.

Lets say you went to a restaurant. It’s your local place. You go there. The food is mediocre. The service is horrible. The wait time is ridiculous. The employees are incompetent. When you request to speak to a manager, they say they‘ll get back to you. Weeks pass with no response. No one cares about your grievances.

You really hate your experience there – you find it unbearable. You muster up some self-esteem and you swear that you deserve to be treated better. You promise you will never go back. Ever. But in order to go to a new restaurant – you must pay $200 to the first.

Now that all sounds silly if you’ve never had a cell phone. But if you have signed a contract with a cell phone company then you know what I am talking about.

It’s gotten so bad that Corey Taylor of Chicago, according to the Washington Post – faked his own death to avoid the fee.
Any relationship that requires you to dummy up a death certificate to get out of it – needs to be re-examined.

We’re not talking about the IRS. This isn’t FEMA. This isn‘t the DMV where you are just stuck with the service. This is the highly touted private sector! This is the benefits of capitalism! This is a free marketplace where consumers rule! Cough.

So what’s with the fee? Purely punitive. You get punished TWICE for shoddy service. Once for having it at all – and second for having the audacity to leave. Instead of improving service and prices, the companies dole out a fine for dumping them.

As a consumer you are forced to decide if your hatred for your cell phone provider is worth the $200. How bad is the coverage? How outrageous are the charges? How angry are you that your phone records were given over to the NSA? The corporations should be penalized for bad service – not the other way around. The money is nothing more than a fine. The payment doesn’t benefit you in any way. The only thing you get from paying it is to get away from the company that caused your misery in the first place. In that respect – it’s more like extortion.

This is not anything new. But what IS new is the iPhone. The iPhone makes my Blackberry seem like the Model T. Apple streamlined the cell phone. I‘m not one for dramatic declarations – but it’s a revolution! The first time I played with one I got misty-eyed. It’s what us tech geeks have been waiting for our whole, nerdy lives.

But iPhone debuted with AT&T wireless exclusively. And that’s why the issue of being penalized for changing cell phone providers has finally made its way into the national discourse. Oh sure, a 17-year-old with a soldering iron unlocked it. And there are other hackers who have figured it out. But for us mortals, we’re looking at our phone contracts and contemplating the dreaded fees so we can get iPhones of our own.

You could call it the butterfly effect. One little phone has brought to light unfair business practices. It could lead to changing the entire industry and one day the world!

The penalty is anti-competition. There is no fine line between price fixing and a fixed fine. The only way change will happen is if Congress passes a law. Sound extreme? Ask to talk to someone at your cell phone company about it, see how fast they get back to you. Yeah, when government is more responsive than an entire profitable industry – things have gotten out of hand.

Let us not forget that you couldn’t take your phone number with you to another provider until the FCC passed a mandate in 2003. That, again, was a punitive hit for changing carriers. It had nothing to do with technology like the companies claimed. So the government had to step in and halt the practice.

So the House is all gummed up from partisan pratfalls. Republicans have cell phones. Democrats have cell phones. Let’s give them something they can actually get done in the next year.

When it comes to cell phone contracts – give us liberty instead of a faked death!

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