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.


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.


7 thoughts on “Cell Phone Issues in the Land of the Free”

  1. It’s stupidity and misinformation. Most Americans are clueless to the world outside and have no clue how such services in other countries work. When I lived in the US I myself had no clue either for that matter. This lack of knowledge allows for the US cell phone providers to shit on their customers.

    1. I think you might have a point. People in the U.S. just don’t know any better and think these are normal prices the world over. They couldn’t be more wrong.

  2. I think most of us know we’re being screwed, but there’s not really a way around it. If you want smart phone, you have to pay an arm a month for data, and it doesn’t matter what company you choose. To me it’s ridiculous I have to pay separate for data and texting. whatever. You get used to the raping. Make sure you look into state-by-state coverage before deciding… especially in rural Ohio you might have issues?

  3. I know you’re moving to OR, but presumably you’ll want coverage in other places of our gigantic country. 🙂 Prepaid is certainly the only way to avoid a contract… but I don’t know anyone who uses it (so have no recommendations).

    1. Prepaid certainly does seem to be the way to go, but yeah, who actually uses it? Is it reliable? That’s what’s holding me back. The whole issue is just one big mess.

  4. I’m pretty sure Amy uses Virgin Mobile (which is prepaid, I think) and is pretty happy with it. She might have trouble getting a signal where her mom lives (Bellville) – but it might be worth asking her about it.

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