Reflections on the 4th of July

On the occasion of this Independence Day, I have to admit that I am pretty proud to be an American. There have been times in my life when I have been ashamed of my nationality and wanted to leave the U.S. and never come back, but over time my attitude has changed.

Why am I proud to be an American? Well, it took nearly eight years of living in a socialist country for my attitude to change.

As an American, I will be the first to admit that my nation is not perfect. But as an American, I am free to say that my nation is not perfect. As an American, I am free to march and protest for what I believe in and not have to worry about being detained or arrested for expressing my opinions and beliefs.

This is a great gift that citizens of the United States and many other nations enjoy. While we should be proud of these freedoms, we should also take occasions such as these to remember that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not know such freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Celebrate America’s independence today and enjoy it. And tomorrow, work for and support change that will bring freedom to those hundreds of millions of people in the 21st century who still do not enjoy it.

Happy 4th of July!

Cell Phone Issues in the Land of the Free

Out of the past eight years, I’ve spent more than seven of them in Vietnam. However, this fall I will be moving back to the U.S.  As a mobile technology enthusiast, I have been keeping an eye on phone plan costs so that I won’t be overwhelmed when I get back. After a fair amount of time spent scouring nearly every cell provider in the U.S., I’ve come to the conclusion that every cell phone company and provider in the U.S. is a fraud and is basically scamming customers out of money. My reasons are below.

-Contracts: All of the main cell providers in the U.S. require a 2-year contract that carries with it heavy termination fees. In Vietnam, contracts for cell service are rare. Like the majority of people here I can buy a new phone anytime I want and then pop in my SIM card and it works. I chose to buy a smartphone (unsubsidized of course), which was expensive, but I’m not tied by a contract and can switch carriers and phones anytime I feel like it.

-Service: Is it even possible for customers with U.S. cell phone companies to change their service plan at some midway point in contract? I have no idea. But I’m guessing it involves fees and charges. In Vietnam I send an SMS message to the provider telling them what data plan I want and it is turned on and functioning immediately.

-Data tethering: In the U.S., I’ve been reading how customers have to pay for services that are built into their phones, for example, data tethering (i.e. turning your smartphone into a wifi hotspot using your data connection). I know that Verizon, for example, charges $10 a month for the privilege of using this feature, which is a built in function of many smartphones. However, here in Vietnam, with my HTC Desire HD it couldn’t be simpler: I just press the wifi hotspot button and it’s working. No extra fees. Like it should be.

-Data pricing: The U.S. media was getting all worked up about Verizon’s new data plans. They are still expensive and crappy, believe me. For me coming back to the U.S., as a new subscriber on Verizon, I’d be paying like $100 a month for service, including data. In Vietnam I pay about $2.50 a month for 650MB of mobile data. When I go over that amount, it’s 5 cents a megabyte. How do you people in the U.S. manage to go along with this stuff?

-Activation fee: Come on people, how can you put up with this crap? These cell companies are basically just taking your money for no justifiable reason. How they all haven’t been shut down for criminal behavior is beyond me. In Vietnam, you buy a phone and you buy a SIM card and you have a working cell phone in minutes. No extra charges to speak of.

After wasting too much time researching the costs and weighing the benefits of getting a new smartphone and a contract with a U.S. cell phone company, I have decided that the range of options is just a bunch of crap. I’m going to get one dumb phone on my dad’s family plan and use all of my apps on tablets where I have wifi. Reasonable cell phone service in the U.S. for a decent price is a joke, and I seem to be the only one laughing.

Addendum:

One of the reasons that tipped me over the edge and inspired me to write this post was that I calculated the cost of data and storage over several mediums after a little research online. Here’s what I found:

-HDD, price per gigabyte: $0.07 (2009)
-SSD, price per gigabyte: $0.82 (2011)
-Both of these prices, I should note, are constantly falling and have been for years.

-Broadband internet in the U.S. (numbers rounded up), price per gigabyte: $0.13 per month (2011).

-Mobile data in Vietnam, price per gigabyte: less than $5 per month (and falling).
-Mobile data on Verizon’s new plan, per gigabyte: $50 per month.

My Australian friend in Vietnam, who shares my passion for mobile technology, once told me: “I don’t know why you put up with so much crap from mobile phone companies in America.”

I don’t know either, and I’m still wondering why so many people do.