Watch CBSN Live

Column: Obama Should Enact Change In Cell Phone Carriers

This story was written by Mark Macmurdo, The Daily Reveille

The idea of change has been tossed around a lot this past election. While the term may seem vague to many, Barack Obamas presidency in its most basic sense will be a departure from the current ideology about the role of government.

The Bush administrations disdain for government and embrace of a laissez-faire approach to business has meant far less regulation to the point where even common sense is disregarded.

The result has been predatory lending practices and misleading credit card agreements, among others.

The current state of the cell phone industry serves as a textbook example of the failure of a non-interventionist approach to regulation.

Consumer protection is rooted in a basic tenant: Corporations have no reason to act benevolently, especially when faced with the prospect of making more money. Government involvement is used not to disproportionately benefit consumers, but to maintain fairness and justice.

It took several years before number portability the ability for individuals to take their number to another carrier was made a right for customers. Similar to America Onlines efforts to hold on to customers e-mail addresses to discourage users from leaving the companys clutches, cell phone carriers would hold on to customers numbers when they decided to switch to a competitor.

While this was certainly a victory for consumers, it came through the judicial system not the executive branch.

A just and motivated administration could mop up the industry with a few non-controversial propositions.

Perhaps the most blatant atrocity is the cell charger. Here you should believe the conspiracy theorists they are out to get you.

Wireless carriers in cahoots with cell phone manufacturers, push accessories with every phone they sell. Having different chargers, which vary even within brands, allows for a huge revenue stream.

Besides the obvious inconvenience of not having a universal charger for consumers, this practice is irresponsible, given the huge amounts of waste it produces.

Big government in China decided to stick its nose in the affairs of business when it mandated that all phones use the widely adopted USB standard to charge phones. On this issue it appears China a communist nation is leading the way, which is unfortunate.

Restrictive policies and different standards of cell phone networks make it difficult often impossible for you to use your hardware when you switch carriers or travel outside of the country.

While there are technological issues that do not allow phones to be used across networks, the bulk of this practice lies in carriers desire to make money by selling as many phones as possible.

Looking beyond the carriers unfair hardware practices, the actual services they provide rely on taking advantage of consumers.

Contracts with customers are central to the cell phone business. Using gimmicks such as phone upgrades, the companies lock in customers often for several years. Under the threat of a massive early termination fee which is often not prorated customers must continue paying monthly.

How many other consumer services require a contract? Although there is a movement in the industry toward pay as you go, many customers are locked in regardless of the quality of service they receive.

Charges are often a source of confusion for many. Bills riddled with bogus, unclear charges are a frequent occurrence. Of course, as soon as they try to find out more information, customers are again reminded of the companys poor customer service.

Mandating simple bills is a possible remedy similar to proposals toclean up the credit card industry.

Recent attention has rightfully been brought to the charges of text messaging fees.

Although a text message uses a fraction of the data of a call, their price has increased to around 15 cents per message. The growing popularity of text messages in conjunction with increased text message prices have been a steady source of revenue.

This practice must end. Text message fees should reflect the amount of data they use.

As always, there will be dissent with any government action heralding misconceived notions of the free market. Well, if you dont like it, dont use a cell phone. This childish argument is too often repeated in our society.

We shouldnt live in a society where it is the individuals task to figure out how they are getting screwed by wasting time pouring through contracts. While it is certainly important that consumers understand any financial decision they make, when the government which in theory represents the interests of the people can mandate fair practices, it should.

Government is a tool, among others, which can be used to make sure businesses behave fairly.

Under an Obama administration, the government I hope will get back to working for the people, rather than allowing for inefficient and unfair practices to take place.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue