Hackin’ The Net

rainbow-pcWill that be wheat or white? Sweet tea or unsweetened? Cash or charge? Debit or credit? Whole milk or 2%?

Every day in life we are faced with choices and often subconsciously make them, but few are going to be as long-lasting or as costly (or money-saving) as all the ones which seem to be bombarding us now with the advent of the new iPhone 6 and the Droids which are on the market. What I refer to is not only the choice of changing phones and upgrading (now or later) but the wide and ever-widening choice of calling plans and packages which almost all of the major providers are just going nuts to sell us.

Do you want to just wait for the two-year “old standard” time frame and then upgrade? There’s a plan for that.

Rather have that iPhone 6 now, but have months left on the “old” 5C or Droid you bought last year? Plans for that.

Wanna pay nothing now, but willing to get a few extra bucks a month added to the cell bill in trade for upgrading to the latest, greatest now? They got that.

And what about upgrading now to an iPhone 6, then getting to upgrade again next year or anytime something new arrives? Yep, there’s a plan for that out there, too.

But as Don Pardo used to say on The Price Is Right: “That’s not all, Bill!”

There are now a myriad of plans based around not what most folks think of a cell phone for at all — calling — but based on data (browsing, texts, etc.) as the major firms have started a data price war. While there are no bullets flying, there are offers in every newspaper, mailbox and on every TV and radio station promising everything from free calls from Europe and Canada to unlimited data and even cash being dangled to buy you out of that old plan you might have elsewhere.

So what to do? What option to take?


The first thing is take a chill pill and relax. Many of the so-called best offers are really not that good at all. Also, my dad’s old bromide rings true here: “Are you gonna pay me now or will you pay me later?” In other words, at the end of the day you are going to have to hand some cash to whichever phone provider you pick, both for the actual phone and the data.

You can choose to do so in monthly add-on charges or all at once or something in- between, but trust dad, you will end up making the firm a profit — albeit a good chance that profit will be smaller than it used to be before choices rained down like a Summer shower — but they got to make money on you or why would they be in business?

In other words, at the end of whatever you do or sign, it’s a bet: You versus your phone’s service provider. They are betting you don’t chew and spit out enough texts, calls and data to break them and you are betting that you will. Think of it as an all- you-can-eat Chinese buffet or a one-size-fits-all (which usually ends up fitting none).

No matter what you or they do, it’s a game and chances are you will end up losing. Remember the big phone service providers are not in business to lose money.

So what to do?

First bit of sage advice: Get all the plans and read the offers thoroughly. By that I mean line-for-line — including that small print stuff. Early cut-off penalties, a bounced check or late payment might screw the whole deal. Poor credit? Maybe no deal at all. Late pay with the old cell provider or a damaged or lost phone? You might not be able to even come to the table.

Next, make a list (in writing — really) of what you need or want. Things will be a LOT different if you are just shopping voice and some basics, like text, than if you want a smart phone which is really more of a mini hand-held computer with all the same features as your desktop and a hunger for roaming data.

The latter item — data — is where the real competition is these days. There are old grandfathered-in data plans you can’t buy now (but with pokey speeds if you pass a certain amount of the faux “unlimited” they promised when you bought them) and there are others where you pay by the bytes, the month or the hours of use. But beware, a lot of what we smart phone users enjoy these days are data hogs. Even apps like Facebook and checking your bank balance use a lot more data then you’d imagine. Never mind streaming radio from Toronto on TuneIn’s app driving halfway across the country or movies on Netflix or TV’ from BBC’s iPlayer or Canada’s CBC.ca Every one of the apps uses their own share of data — and a lot of those shares are massive.

Check out www.broadbandchoices.co.uk and you might be amazed at how doing even the simplest thing can rack up the megabytes of data used.

And to make matters worse, in our ever-more-mobile society there’s only one way to pay for the towers needed to provide all that bandwidth — your and my cell bills. Watch out or while you might “roll over” half the 700 minutes your plan gives a month and end with plenty of texts left you could be faced with large overcharges for data.

Want even worse news? Try leaving the country. While some plans and firms (most notably T-Mobile) are good to you when you leave the US of A with that phone, other companies (at&t here gets the black eye) hit you with costly data plans, charges, overages and what this writer feels is an almost unfair set of draconian fees for even downloading one photo to Facebook or a single tune from iTunes when outside the country. The other major providers — Verizon and Sprint — fall somewhere between the above extremes, but cross the border to Canada or fly off to England at your bank account’s peril!

And finally, there’s one other set of things you might not have thought of, and they include what constitutes a “family plan”, what you’ll pay to get out of an old contract if you wanna move and keep your number and what a phone can do. Some phones look like others on the outside, but there are several very different ways they grab the calls and data. Take an iPhone from one firm and try to use it on another and it may — or may not — be compatible.

Want to have Firm A “buy out” what’s left of your contract with Firm B so you can move now? In some cases you will get enough money to pay off A from B…in other cases not so much so. And a lot of folks forget (before they leave one provider for another) to ASK their current provider what they can or might be able to do. Say, for example, you go to Canada a lot but use a costly foreign service provider. Ask their representative (in person or on that toll-free customer service line) if they can suggest a calling plan to save you cash or flat out tell them “I need what you do not offer, can you negotiate to discount this? If not I plan to leave.” You’d be surprised what you can get IF you are current on the bill, a customer in good-standing and have been with them awhile. And do not take the first “no” as a final answer. If you don’t like what you hear from the flunky, ask for a supervisor. Be firm, but polite. And keep in mind sometimes there’s nothing they can do so go on and switch. But other times they can help. Give them a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Like shoes, or cash or charge or white or wheat or every other choice we make, one size does not fit all. Do your homework and then make an informed decision. 

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