Uncle Sam donned a Santa suit and handed out early holiday gifts in December that will result in more consumer choice and fewer unwanted calls to mobile phones.
Consumers got their first break a couple of weeks ago when a bill which would have repealed a federal ban on robo-calls to mobile phones was withdrawn after initial hearings in Congress.
Sponsors of the bill said constituent opposition to the measure was strong, and they were unable to reach a consensus on how to word the measure to ensure that automated calls could only be made to people who agreed to receive them.
Less than a week later, as a result of signals from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they would not approve AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile, AT&T backed out of the deal.
This means that at least for the time being, consumers will continue to have more options when it comes to choosing a mobile carrier, along with the possibility that choice will lead to increased competition and lower prices.
AT&T decided to back away from the deal despite a $4 billion dollar “breakup” fee it had to pay to T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom.
But, that doesn’t mean T-Mobile, the weakest of the nation’s four major mobile carriers, will stick around in its present form much longer. Deutsche Telekom is reportedly now looking for another buyer now that the AT&T deal has fallen through.
It also doesn’t mean that mobile customers will benefit all that much from what on the surface appears to be a more competitive mobile marketplace. Even the cheapest monthly mobile plans are still pretty expensive, and truly unlimited data plans are becoming harder to come by.
Now lets step back and look at the bigger picture. Consider the Carrier IQ spy software debacle, which also made headlines this month.
Factor in the expense of reliance to the point of addiction on a device that without your knowledge or consent has been recording and transmitting information about who you call, what you say, and the messages you send; and you may find that any so called savings you are enjoying right now are an illusion.
The good news is that on this issue as well, Uncle Sam is at least apparently siding with consumers. From Congressmen like Al Franken calling for hearings, to the Federal Trade Commission being asked to look into privacy violations; what seems clear is that even Big Brother doesn’t like someone looking over his shoulder.
And who’s fault is it, exactly? Well, mobile carriers point to Carrier IQ, and Carrier IQ points to mobile manufacturers. They say a flaw the mobile devices themselves is to blame; either intentionally or unintentionally built into the phones by manufacturers in countries such as China and Korea.
But in truth, there is plenty of blame to go around. As mobile consumers, do we not have the right to expect that mobile carriers will protect us from such egregious invasions of our privacy?
And what about Federal regulators? Aren’t they supposed to be monitoring telecommunications devices and technology and keeping us safe from such threats? One would think so, unless, of course–the government has a stake or interest in collecting that information.
If that’s true; it’s sure not something anybody is admitting to at this time. The FBI, for example, recently refused to release any information it may have received from Carrier IQ, because of “ongoing” investigations.
As I see it, mobile consumers–just like regular, individual computer users–are at the whim of technology that they only dimly understand, and cannot control. Even mobile carriers themselves were caught flat-footed by the Carrier IQ uproar, and as a result, Sprint has disabled the software on customer phones.
If that is the case, what can average consumers do to protect themselves? At the moment; the answer seems to be that we have to continue to trust mobile carriers to handle it for us, and on Congress to investigate how and why such trust has been misplaced.