Choice in cellphone plans? Not really!

Isn’t the rallying cry of uncontrolled capitalism that markets will respond to what consumers demand? Isn’t that how supply and demand is supposed to work? Don’t the loudest voices from the pro-business-keep-government-out-of-my-life world unabashedly proclaim that businesses and entrepreneurs simply need unregulated freedom to give the customer what he wants, and all will be well with the world?

Today’s Washington Post story about our increasingly complex cellphone bills, made more complicated by the speed and size of various data plans, notes the following:

“In a recent survey, the research arm of investment house Sanford C. Bernstein found that consumers were not happy with the idea of usage-based pricing plans. ‘They’re generally ill-equipped for any estimation of their usage and they are ill-equipped to judge its implications,’ Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett wrote. ‘Given the option, the vast majority of respondents would stay with their unlimited plans.'”

So, wireless providers are just jumping at the bit to beef up their competition by providing unlimited plans that are more competitive, more responsive to what consumers want, right?

Not so fast (literally!).  Wireless companies, it seems, will do what they will do, focusing more on how to collectively increase the costs their customers are forced to pay.  They’ll do this not only by offering plans that they want to offer, but also by ignoring their customers’ wishes, even moving away from providing  the one option — unlimited usage plans — that the “vast majority” of consumers seem to want.

“Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are moving toward tiered pricing packages based on how much data a customer uses. All-you-can-eat plans are no longer available to AT&T’s new customers, who must choose from a menu of data services.”

“‘What we’re trying to do is offer choice, and there will always be those that then say choices are too many. So you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t,’ said John Walls, a spokesman for wireless industry trade group CTIA.”

Well, Mr. Walls, if the list of “choices” doesn’t include the one option you really want, what good is that?

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