Moon River

Seems that folks aren't all that excited about Verizon's new Share Everything plans. I'm shocked. Change isn't exactly welcome in these parts. That's partially because we just don't like change, and partially because the changes don't always work in our favor. 

Why are we surprised?

I look at smartphone plans like I look at casinos. I'm going to get taken. I know this. From the moment I walk in the door, I know that I'm going to be handing over more money than I like. With casinos, I pretend I'm paying for service. I'm paying to play roulette or blackjack. I sit back, relax, have a little fun. (And, on occasion, I actually win something.) But I set a limit for myself. I know I'm going to lose something, but I try to minimize my losses. Same goes for my smartphone plans.

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But let's forget about Verizon for a minute. This is bigger than Big Red.

We're all getting fleeced.

My wife has an iPhone on AT&T. I'm using the HTC One X.  We've got 550 voice minutes on our plan, which we've never come anywhere close to using. But, AT&T's got that great deal where unused minutes roll over. How awesome is that! Now I can pass on minutes I never use from month to month. Never mind that I'll still never use them -- they roll over! Thanks, AT&T!

At last check, we'd used 156 minutes out of a possible 4,226 minutes. Am I getting my money's worth? Hell, no. Makes me feel like I need to make more calls. But I don't have a choice. That's the lowest plan you can get with our phones.

Then there's data. The wife uses less than a gigabyte of data a month on her $30 unlimited plan. Even I don't use much more than that, thanks to being in what we like to call a Wifi-rich environment. Never mind when I travel. My average usage just isn't as high as I like to think it is. But I've got the 5-gigabyte, $50-a-month plan so that I can tether when necessary. Will I use it? Probably not a whole lot. But I'm paying for it, and I'm playing right into the carrier's hands.

All in all, we're paying around $150 a month for these two phones. Are we costing AT&T that much money in data and voice usage? Absolutely not. We're not using our allotted voice minutes. And we're nowhere near our data allowance.

So are we getting screwed? Sure. A lot of us are. The carriers go out of their way to provide plans that at first glance look like they're a good deal. Rollover minutes? Sweet! I can get a 5-gigabyte plan with tethering for $50? Not bad! Oh, wait. I don't actually use anywhere near 5 gigabytes of data. But I do want the tethering. Shame I can't get that separately. So, I'll bend over and pay the $50.

And this is how the carriers act like casinos. They give the fleeting appearance that you're getting a good deal when, in fact, many of us are overpaying for what we're using. We've got to take at least a little responsibility here. (But don't mistake that for me blessing the practice.) We can see the plans. They're really not that difficult to understand. We, as consumers, need to be careful to not pay for more food than we're ever going to eat. But when the carriers only offer dessert with the purchase of a more expensive entree, you're going to dig deeper into your wallet. A la carte pricing is the holy grail of the mobile space. And it's never going to happen. Ever. For some folks, some families, shared plans and deep buckets of data can actually save money. But make no mistake -- these are the minorities, just like winners in a casino. Make no mistake: The carriers are not in this business to not make money.

There are options. The Straight Talk plans are a real possibility. Prepaid devices are getting better every year. (Though I doubt they'll ever catch up to their parent carriers, but then again why would they?)

I'm not sure we're ever going to win this game and only pay for what we use. That's a worthy goal, but the cards are stacked high against us. For now, the best we can do is to maximize our usage and minimize our losses. Check your data usage, and adjust your plan accordingly.