America: Land of the mobile rip-off

Posted on by Mike Evans

By Michael Evans

IN WASHINGTON last week, I couldn't resist visiting the Apple Store in Bethesda, Maryland, for the launch of the iPhone 3GS. Lines were modest and everyone seemed to be getting their phones after relatively little waiting. I could only watch, of course, because I don't have an AT&T contract (and wouldn't want one anyway). I will have to wait until I return to Greece later this month to claim my unlocked 3GS from Vodafone Greece. Yes, as in several European countries, it's illegal to lock phones to one carrier in Greece.

This was my first return visit to the USA since becoming an iPhonista and I was aware that I would have an expensive time if I wished to continue using my phone as normal. Roaming data with O2 in the USA costs a whopping £6,000 a gigabyte. Admittedly, you can buy an international bolt-on which gives you 50 MB a month for £50. In the end I decided to rely on the frequent free wifi opportunities and buy an AT&T pay-as-you-go SIM card for voice calls (bearing in mind I do have an unlocked phone).

What a rip-off! I was astounded to find that, while inland calls are relatively cheap at 20 cents (free to other AT&T mobiles), there is a ridiculous $1 a day fee added to the first call of the day. Alternatively, I believe, you can forego the fee and pay 50 cents a minute for calls. And AT&T aren't alone in this nonsense. T-Mobile have a similar US tarrif. Sprint and Verizon were out because they don't use standard GSM SIM cards.

When you bear in mind the high monthly contract prices in the USA, there is no doubt that consumers there get a rough deal. Here in Europe things are so much better. PAYG cards in most European countries are cheap and call costs are relatively low. Above all, there are no daily charges so it is possible for a light user to go for a whole year on a £10 credit.

Things are also getting better in Europe. As from today, thanks to the munificent European Union, roaming charges for both voice and data are capped. According to this morning's news, inter-carrier data charges are capped at €1 per Megabyte (around €1,000 per GB, again ouch but still a big improvement!) and the price of making an inter-Europe call is capped at 43 cents a minute and receiving a call at 19 cents (there are no charges for receiving calls on a home network in Europe, only when roaming). Roaming texts are capped at 11 cents. All these prices attract local VAT of course (between 15 and 20% on average). 

"The roaming rip-off is now coming to an end", said EU Telecoms Commissioner, Viviane Reding. Amen! Maybe they should offer her a job at the Capitol in Washington. 

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