small change toward a rich life

Text message insanity, part two

In part one, I discussed the rampant texting habits of teenagers today and the rapidly rising cost of same.

The deceptive part of the text messaging phenomenon is that the cost is discussed in terms of a nickel here, a dime there, which makes it seem trivial. It’s not.

Wireless providers are collecting forty cents (they double-bill, hitting both the sender and receiver) to transfer a few lines of text. Sam at Gthing did the math to put this into perspective: if your internet bandwidth were charged at the same rate as text messages, downloading a single MP3 would cost about $24,000.*

This is why SMS is worth 100 billion dollars a year, and growing exponentially.

So what if you’re not a teenager, and you’re trying to keep your cell phone bill from skyrocketing? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get a smaller plan and stick to it. $5 will get you 200 messages from AT&T, 250 messages from Verizon, 300 from Sprint, and 400 from T-Mobile.
  • Use email to send texts for free (but remember that the receiver will still be charged). T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint offer free web interfaces as well.
  • Switch to a smaller carrier with lower rates.

Smaller companies aren’t rushing to hike SMS rates as quickly as the Big Four. I sampled four, all of which had better per-message deals:

  • Alltel charges 15¢ to send and receive domestic messages. Alltel is the only wireless carrier large enough to have been rated along with the Big Four in Consumer Reports’ last study, where they outranked every other carrier in the metro areas for which CR had adequate survey data.
  • Virgin Mobile, while arguably not small, is definitely an underdog in the current US market. They offer domestic text messages for 10¢ each way, international for 20¢ sent and 10¢ received.
  • US Cellular charges 20¢ to send, but received messages are free.
  • Cellular South charges 15¢ to send and receive, capped per month at $30.

(Photo by bigdiesel.)

* Calculations assume the average text message is 80 characters (the range is 1-160) and the average song is about 4 megabytes.


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