So Long, Unlimited Data Plan: Customer Focus Dies at Verizon Wireless
Lee H. Badman
May 17, 2012
It seems that, right now, the mobile carriers are counting on customers having short memories, deep pockets and low expectations. Blazing-fast networks aren't enough, as there are still human beings on the receiving end of the grief that comes with impressive throughput. The prevailing strategies blowing across the mobile space are decidedly customer-unfriendly, and the carriers are heading in a bad direction.
Consider my own situation, as a longtime Verizon Wireless customer (there are plenty of similar tales from other carriers' customers to be heard). Having long since cut the landline at home, we have five phones from Big V on our family plan. Three of those phones are in the hands of teenagers, and my own has a data plan, given my lines of work. I'm on an unlimited data plan--but not for long. But more on that in a bit.
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My family grew up with New Every Two, the Verizon Wireless policy that let each phone be replaced for free or at significantly reduced cost every couple of years. And we made use of that, changing out the kids' flip/feature basic phones as the teens put normal wear and tear on them. We grew accustomed to it, and New Every Two was part of what kept us as loyal Verizon Wireless customers.
Not only was New Every Two recently killed off, but now it also costs $30 to update even the low-end feature phones. The website may show free for a given phone, but in the age of New Carrier Math, free equals $30. I was told by Verizon that this helps subsidize pricey units being sold at a loss, like the iPhone. In other words, I get dinged $30 to replace my daughter's "free" phone so those folks living the iPhone lifestyle benefit. Uh, hello? What's wrong with this picture? Even worse, when complaining via online chat with a Verizon rep, I was told this is actually a good deal because it's cheaper than other carriers. Uh huh, a good deal--for Verizon Wireless.
Let's talk about bloatware. On my smartphone, I have at least a dozen apps that I cannot remove. Evidently the NFL, Slacker Radio, Verizon Wireless itself and several other entities are also subsidizing smartphone costs as the slew of unwanted apps cannot be uninstalled and are a fact of life. I have no choice what crapware comes bundled into "my" phone. These apps take up memory and use my data plan and battery life against my wishes by checking into various mother ships for updates--and that's just supposed to be OK with me. With an unlimited data plan, perhaps I shouldn't care. But nothing is sacred these days, and unlimited ain't what it used to be.
Depending on the carrier, an unlimited data plan is actually quite limited. Again, using New Carrier Math, the word unlimited departs from being defined as "without limits" and has been reworked to loosely mean "a few gigabytes, after which you will pay quite a bit more than you might expect." It's absolutely nuts, and glitzy, sexy, high-tech-themed commercials make it no easier to swallow.
But the data plan story gets even worse. Verizon Wireless CFO Fran Shammo has announced (and rather coolly, I might add) that the much-loved $30 monthly data plans that many longtime customers like me enjoy will soon be a thing of the past. Despite what we signed up for, we're being forced into not-yet-defined family share plans, because, Shammo says, "That is beneficial to us"--us being Verizon Wireless. He might as well have said, "In your face, Loyal Customer!" Just like with the cable companies, the new mantra of dealing with mobile customers appears to be, "We say it, you pay it--and just shut up about it."
Evidently, the promise of smokin'-fast 4G networks is supposed to make everything else moot in the mind of the modern mobile customer. But it doesn't. Those of us with a longer history of loyally paying our bills to the carriers can't simply ignore that any friendly relationship we had as customers is being systematically dismantled by the carrier itself and replaced by overhyped promises of a fast network. And that's just not enough for some of us, as we want to be treated like valued customers again.
Thanks a bunch for nothing, Mr. Shammo.