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back to article US Senate wants answers on soaring text rates

The chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee has written to the four largest US network operators demanding they explain why the cost of texting has doubled since 2005. Text messages have been a nice little earner for European operators since cross-network connectivity became available, but txt is …

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Boffin

The question of why it's so expensive has occurred to me

20c a pop to send a few bytes of text, even across the wirelessesses, makes little sense. They're making mad profits off of this, especially given how easy and thoughtless it is for people to send text messages. They don't think about it, at least not until they send hundreds of them and get the bill... this definitely deserves looking into.

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Black Helicopters

The answer is, because they can.

txts were given away free here in the UK at the beggining. Until people started using them and then the operators started charging.

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Silver badge

Demand

That's why it's so expensive. People are willing to pay for it. I think it's shit, since SMS in and of itself has very little impact on the overall infrastructure of the carrier. They've got massive tech overhead from putting in place all the other crap that few people really use.

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Anonymous Coward

educated guess

My guess (in answer to the Senator's question) is that the new medium (txt) is displacing an old medium (pagers) which nets the operators more profits. Not wanting to kill their cash cows, it makes sense to try to bring the new medium into line with the older pricing structures. This is totally uninformed opinion of course ...

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Boffin

Marketing?

Most of the US providers have 'bulk' packages and unlimeted text packages for $10-50/mo.

Perhaps they like a steady revenue stream and are encouraging their customers to switch.

Besides, tracking the number of messages and billing for them costs ;-)

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Amusing

How our backwards chums in the US are still thinking of SMS as a new thing!

Guess what guys, it's nearly 20 years old.

Here in the UK we get thousands of texts a month for virtually nothing.

You'll catch up eventually, don't worry!

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Anonymous Coward

My guess:

This has always perplexed me, too-- how can it possibly cost more to send five bytes of ascii than to make a real time voice call?

Of course, that's because I'm not part of the target audience for texting-- I'm an adult and can make calls when I need to. However, students in school love texting, because you can do it surreptitiously beneath your desk without the teacher noticing. Kids love passing notes, and texting is the most elaborate note passing system ever devised.

AT&T alone is probably making a billion a year just from US highschools.

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Anonymous Coward

@My Guess AC

It's 160 bytes for a standard SMS, plus any headers and other padding. Say 200 bytes in total.

Still, at 9600bps (standard GSM data rate IIRC) that makes the time taken to send the text (again, ignoring any handshaking and so on) 1/6th of a second. And given that 9600bps is a tiny fraction of what the network- even what individual masts- can take, it really is pretty pathetic that we're charged so much for texts.

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Anonymous Coward

Text MSGs

I could care less that they charge so much to send a msg. I think it's a crock that I'm charged to read something that's already on my phone. I stopped after I realized I was getting charged for each one I'd read (in my contract in small print that I'd forgotten to remember). Of course, AT&T doesn't charge for their own advertisements, so I delete them without reading them (excepting the Amber alert stuff). Feel the same way about being charged for incoming calls... just double charging for the same service.

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don't they

charge you to receive texts in the US too?

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Flame

Go figure...

Congressmen are worried about the increasing cost of text messaging enough to bring the anti-trust people into the fray, but they weren't worried about the rising price of energy enough to bring the anti-trust people into that arena.

I smell a huge dual standard, one with kickbacks lining a huge number of politician's pockets - follow the money.

Anyway, to answer the stupid Congressmen's question, this is what happens when government regulation is removed and government oversight isn't paying attention to entities whose number one rule is to make more and more profit every financial cycle. You want the prices to go down? Regulate fairness in pricing again. Do your God-damned job. Idiots.

Flame, because our tax dollars are going up in smoke in relatively pointless chases such as this, and hearings on steroid use in baseball. The entire US Congress needs a group-slap so they can come to their senses. And the incoming administration needs to bring every war-profiteer, colluder, and every other person who took advantage of a corrupt administration to trial, so they can lose everything they have to repay everyone whose lost their lives (living or dead) due to this fucking lunacy.

[No other word conveys the depths of disgust and anger I have for the people who have raped our country for the past 8 years.]

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@ Solomon Grundy

>>>That's why it's so expensive. People are willing to pay for it. I think it's shit, since SMS in and of itself has very little impact on the overall infrastructure of the carrier. They've got massive tech overhead from putting in place all the other crap that few people really use.

Demand doesn't cause the price to rise unless supply is limited. SMS requires such a small amount of bandwidth that there isn't really a tangible supply limitation. So it's not consumer demand for SMS that's causing the prices to go up, it's the bigwig's demand for more money.

@ Kevin Kitts

>>>[No other word conveys the depths of disgust and anger I have for the people who have raped our country for the past 8 years.]

This is clearly a reference to the presidency, but your entire rant was about congress - a body controlled by the opposite party of the president. While I share your disdain for the do-nothing legislature we've had of late, I find the reference linking the presidency tenuous at best.

I do very much agree with that email that's been going around (and around...) saying that the 100 Senators, 435 Representatives, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 1 President have the power to make law they want. If something exists in this country, it's because those 545 people want it to exist. Fire them all and start over. It'll never happen though, because it's someone else's job to be active in government and politics, not the citizens'.

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Boffin

Sen. Kohl is one monie fellow

Yeah, along with Russ Feingold, ol' Herbie is my U.S. Senator. He's got money up the wazoo, so I don't think he'd be too concerned about getting more of it. He can just let the interest buy a new yacht..... but having that much does warp your being, or so I've heard.

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Joe
Flame

SMS

The problem: Quite possibly the most expensive form of communication EVER !

The solution: Don't use it, you fools ! In most cases it's cheaper to make a vocie call.

Example: My carrier charges £0.15 (15 pence) per text message (with a maximum size beyond what I've ever used), whereas they charge £0.10 (10 pence) for the first three minutes of a voice call. During that voice call, I can get far more information transferred, and even respond to questions from the other party. SMS is a stupid technology.

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Laughing all the way to the bank

Yes, we in the US pay for every text sent AND received, whether it's unsolicited or not. And (at least with Verizon Wireless), there's no way to disable incoming texts, so you get charged whenever someone sends you a text, even if you don't want it, even if it's advertising or spam.

To put the 20-cents-per-text cost in context, I just checked AT&T Wireless' website and looked at their data plans. I know, I know, data is not texting, but it offers a valid byte-to-dollar comparison. Let's assume 200 bytes per text message, as mentioned above (seems like a fair number).

AT&T Wireless' rates:

http://www.wireless.att.com/businesscenter/business-programs/mid-large/wwan.jsp

http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/international/roaming/affordable-world-packages.jsp

http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/popups/iphone-data-info.jsp

Business plan of $8.99 for 1MB with overage fee of $0.02/KB --> $0.02/KB = $0.00001953125/byte = $0.00390625/text --> $0.20/text is 51.2X this cost --> 20-cents-per-text is 50X (5,000%) more expensive than this data plan.

iPhone plan of $59.99 for 50MB with overage fee of $0.005/KB --> $0.005/KB = $0.0000048828125/byte = $0.0009765625/text --> $0.20/text is 204.8X this cost --> 20-cents-per-text is over 200X (20,000%) more expensive than this data plan.

Business plan of $29.99 for 20MB with overage fee of $0.001/KB --> $0.001/KB = $0.0000009765625/byte = $0.0001953125/text --> $0.20/text is 1,024X this cost --> 20-cents-per-text is over 1,000X (100,000%) more expensive than this data plan.

So the cost of sending or receiving a text message ranges from 5,000% to more than 100,000% more expensive than transmitting the same number of bytes in a data plan. Ma Bell never even dreamed of those kinds of profits.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Kevin Kitts

WOAH, hold on there!

"Anyway, to answer the stupid Congressmen's question, this is what happens when government regulation is removed and government oversight isn't paying attention to entities whose number one rule is to make more and more profit every financial cycle. You want the prices to go down? Regulate fairness in pricing again. Do your God-damned job. Idiots."

The government isn't supposed to be regulating every part of the economy & our lives. Take a break and go read the constitution again. Free markets regulate themselves.

Tell me please, what is so wrong about an enitity that wants to make more money? I'd say roughly 99% of us want to make more money, does that mean that we're all evil and that the government needs to tell us how much we can make? Profit != Evil. The whole point of a company is to make a profit. In fact, shareholders have the legal right to ensure that a company is making itself (and them!) a profit.

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Sprint sucks too...

Kinda of ironic that a phone I bought on sprint back in 2004 had a built in java version of MS Messenger, and could send unlimited texts to other ms messenger (and yahoo IM) users. I guess back then they realized that 200bytes was about the equivilent of 1/10th of a second of voice traffic, so why charge people for it..

Along comes my new phone, the jim-dandy Samsung Instinct. Heck of a nice phone, but gee.. no instant messenger. I can only txt to other cells (or people who have their cell's intertwined with their messenger). Of course I had to upgrade to the Sprint talk message share plan which ran me $40/mo more than my previous plan.

Gee. I wonder how a phone 4 years newer than my ancient LG couldn't handle the code of any of the standard internet IM clients. Why because sprint is a nickel and diming unethical PoS company.

This is why I like google's idea of a open network. Let *me* pick what traffic I want to send over the network. Bunch of rip-off mother lovin frackers. (As they'd say on BSG).

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JC
Happy

@ Michael

I did not, would not, vote for anyone knowningly who had the intentions to let things slide as they have in the US.

I will indeed vote for someone else, but that is not likely to cause the laws to be repealed. We the citizens have been betrayed and should speak up. Your idea of how things should be has historically never worked, it just allows problems to be perpetuated.

Kevin's so-called rant was about the President, as the figurehead he does have the ability to sway opinion and pretty much pushed for things you suppose were the fault of the other party in congress, or didn't you ever hear any of the speeches he'd made over the years? Apparently not.

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Alien

Hubble Is Cheaper!

Getting data back from the Hubble Space Telescope is cheaper than SMS!

http://www.physorg.com/news129793047.html

"The maximum size for a text message is 160 characters, which takes 140 bytes because there are only 7 bits per character in the text messaging system, and we assume the average price for a text message is 5p. There are 1,048,576 bytes in a megabyte, so that's 1 million/140 = 7490 text messages to transmit one megabyte. At 5p each, that's £374.49 per MB - or about 4.4 times more expensive than the ‘most pessimistic’ estimate for Hubble Space Telescope transmission costs."

Alien, because amanfromars has a cheaper mobile phone bill than me!

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Dead Vulture

@ Michael [LONG RANT ALERT, but not targeted at Michael]

"This is clearly a reference to the presidency, but your entire rant was about congress - a body controlled by the opposite party of the president. While I share your disdain for the do-nothing legislature we've had of late, I find the reference linking the presidency tenuous at best."

When the President refuses to sign legislation, it's called a veto. Like it or not, the President has to approve the laws (except in an override situation), and thus is part of the legislative process. And for the first six years of the Bush-2 administration, Republicans were in control of the Congress. Which is why Democrats were voted into office in 2006, to bring the mismanagement to a screeching halt. Everybody knew nothing would get done from 2006 to 2008...that was the whole point. They knew they couldn't get rid of all the Republicans at once, so they did what they could: they stopped almost all legislation from going through. At least they stopped the Republicans from doing any more stupid unilateral actions. In two months, the public will finish the job, Democrats will be in power again, and things will finally turn away from the brink, albeit at a snail's pace.

"Fire them all and start over. It'll never happen though, because it's someone else's job to be active in government and politics, not the citizens'."

The problem is that Bush woke up America with his stupidity. He crushed American sensibilities and laughed in the public's face. Even Cheney said it: "So?" I cannot remember a more corrupt and indifferent administration in my entire life (and I won't even mention Congress). Bush and his cronies showed the American public that they really *don't* have a say in how things work. You see, once you elect a President, he can go apeshit, and no one can stop him if they aren't forced to by law. Where's the law against negligent homicide where Bush started a war on false pretexts and got thousands of our soldiers and tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed? [I won't go into the Darfur situation.] And Bush thinks everything's *OK*. Call me naive for not having the President's eyes-only intel info at hand, but the fact that he refuses to recognize his mistakes makes him a narcissist in my book, and that qualifies him (and Cheney for the same reason) for being removed from office on account of being mentally unstable, as soon as possible (forget impeachment).

My whole point in a nutshell is: If the President can break our country's laws with impunity because the Congress and the Supreme Court backs him up, then where's the independent authority that can stop a fully united nuthouse full of Red vs. Blue squabbling children led by a hear-no-see-no-speak-no-evil moron with delusions of colonialism? How can we, the people, stop them?

Am I the only adult left who sees this problem? This is how our democracy splits at the seams and dies in a civil war, when our government fails to do the will of its people, in the name of pure greed. Does Bush Sr. or any other member of Bush's family own any oil stock? That would be war-profiteering in the truest sense of the word, the self-sustaining military-industrial complex spoken of so long ago. It's too bad Congress writes laws with loopholes for family members holding your wallet while you're in office, otherwise our government would be a lot less corrupt.

There's no oversight, because the people depend on their Congressmen to protect them from corrupt Congressmen - the fox guarding the henhouse, as they say. When it becomes easier to go with the flow of Congressional and Presidential insanity than to do their jobs, our government has ended, and a dictatorship just like China's has begun. I don't want to believe that, but that's the way it looks. That's why Obama will win in November, because nobody else wants to believe it either. And even if we really are controlled by the corporations and the politicians are all bought, at least if Obama gets in, the illusion of democracy, that the system works for the public good, will be safely back in place, and the people will once again accept the Matrix. If not, if they are given another 4 years of Bush (via McCain) where the economy will tank, or even if the economy tanks under Obama, people will go homeless, not be able to afford food, start stealing, start food riots, march on the state capitals and overthrow their state governments, then try to secede so they can get some other government to run their new country better (starting the next American Civil War, which will be nuclear). Sympathizers will follow suit, and America will die in flames.

All because of unchecked greed - the parasite killing its host. If the leaders of our country cannot do the right thing, then the people will eventually take up the arms they fought for over 225 years to keep, and they will demand justice where there is none left to give. Then they will take it by force, and the American Dream of peaceful cooperation for the good of all will be permanently dead, and the terrorists (the corrupt politicians in power) will have won at last. They will be able to flee to other countries with their ill-gotten loot and set up house like the Nazis, while we have no choice but to live in a bombed-out, radioactive wasteland.

This is what we have woken up to. We are not safe in our own country anymore. First, 9-11, yes. But then Bush, Cheney, the Republican majority of 2000-2006, Enron's cooking the books, Bethlehem Steel's cutting off of pensions for its retirees, Worldcom's crash, Verizon's cooperation in warrentless wiretapping, massive outsourcing of manufacturing and high-tech jobs (Intel et al), massive illegal immigration and non-enforcement of immigration laws, and on and on and on. We have no way of judging whether or not any of our leaders is competent enough to work for the public good and not (exclusively) their own self-interests.

We now know for a fact that we can't trust those who govern us, and we as a people just realized that we have no recourse when things go completely wrong. The terrorists have already won, because we now fear our own leaders and our government, both of whom we used to trust (or at least, I did at some level). And those terrorists are the Republican administration and the Republican Party, who facilitated it all through their blatant stupidity, and went with the flow even after they realized their mistake. They shattered the illusion of safety. "Outside of his own kingdom, the hunter becomes the hunted" - not anymore, and never again. "Never again." The last time I heard that phrase was out of the mouth of an Auschwitz survivor I knew - I never understood just what that meant to him until recently.

This stupidity leaves us with only one party, one that we know only as *not* being Republican, rather than known as being in any way trustworthy. Third parties don't count, because they receive no press, and we don't know who they are or what they did in the past. One party is *not* a choice, and I'm just as frightened of the Democratic majority that will be here in 2009 as I am of the Republicans still in power. But I have no choice. No choice at all. Only what is happening now, which is intolerable, and what may be, with a grain (or shaker) of hope. As I said, no choice at all.

They have forced me to wake up from my sleep of imagined safety and justice. To paraphrase Harlan Ellison, I have no eyelids, and I must sleep.

With regard to why the news media allows celebrities to have interviews about politics, but not the common person on the street corner (who generally are not insulated from the rest of the world like celebrities are), Mr. Ellison's original title also applies: I have no mouth, and I must scream.

Insert your favorite Douglas Adams/Doctor Who/etc. "stared-into-the-Vortex-for-a-split-second" analogy here. I have awoke to find that I am totally insignificant, where I once thought I had inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I was wrong. But unlike those characters in the analogy, I have nowhere to run away to, and NASA has dropped the ball for getting us into space. I am stuck here until we can get off this rock, watching America slide toward its fall, like ancient Rome. It sickens me, but I can't turn away. I am forced to watch it all. The only thing keeping America alive is fear of the gun, and I'm fervently praying to any and all deities that may exist that we don't have to use them, that our government will wake up and realize who they work for. If America falls, no country in the world will ever stand up for another again. They'll be too busy building fortresses and guns to protect themselves. Then war will come, and the last Dark Age will fall on humanity. The US may not be the shiniest city on the hill, but we're the only one left that cares more about people than wealth. When that changes, it's over. For everyone. Mark my words.

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Stop

@joe - SMS not stupid, just used inappropriately

SMS can get through where voice can't because it doesn't need the bandwidth. Also useful for reminding people of addresses and times of things because they can refer back to them. Usefully our directory enquiries service sends you an sms if you ask for a number and then you don't have to type it in.

I remember some article in El Reg about some military tech that had a phone on it and the marines found texting very useful because it can get through were voice can't.

But yeah, you're right about it being crap for anything more complicated than the directions to a restaurant, same true of email too. Usually much quicker to speak if the conversation is complex.

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Black Helicopters

@Kevin Kitts

Kevin, you are THE BOMB, my man. Look at how the media is still jumping through the hoops that teh GOP gave them. Look at how McCain can take an insult aimed at him (lipstick on a pig), and turn it around to mock outrage that his frozen bimbo has been slighted, and most of the media moos and goes placidly along with it. I hope that they go after every one of these bastards after the dems get in (if the votes are counted this time), and throws them the hell in jail.

Anonymous because I work for a defense contractor. Black helis because we make black helis.

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@ Anon Cow

" Take a break and go read the constitution again. Free markets regulate themselves"

In a perfect world, free markets regulate themselves. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world.

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Stop

US SMS

Kevin Kitts - nice posting but I think you got a bit carried away with :

"Then war will come, and the last Dark Age will fall on humanity. The US may not be the shiniest city on the hill, but we're the only one left that cares more about people than wealth. When that changes, it's over. For everyone. Mark my words."

really - the only only one left that cares more about people than wealth - that's why kids can go to school in the US but there is no free healthcare for all children?

You are also too optimistic, the Republicans will win... I've worked in Dallas, the state is controlled by old rich white people who play bridge and all go to the same methodist church. They will put such fear into the public that Obama will be seen to be entirely unelectable. In the land of the free, a few powerful, wealthy people run the roost.

SMS was an engineering add-on when GSM was being developed. Now, it's essential - us oldies (>40) may not get why... Remember being a teenager - how hard was it to ask a girl out. Although a voice call may be more economical, a text is easier to send when asking if someone wants to go on a date. Twitter and the like have increased the near instantaneous, simple messaging impact.

I never knew that in the US people had to pay to both send AND receive texts. Best of luck to the senators, until they are "lobbied" and this problem goes away.

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