I’ve had a “smart phone” for the last year and a half. I like it. It runs Android, and lets me keep on top of email as I wander, which means now I CAN wander, and I do. Of course, there are many other applications available, and over the time I’ve had it the phone has turned into a media player, an alarm clock, and a handy settler of arguments.

I’m Canadian. That means that I pay too much for internet and phone service. Although we have a federal commission that is supposed to monitor such things, it doesn’t seem that the average citizen is high priority. I have a monthly plan that includes 500 MB of data and 200 minutes of talk time. This has always been enough for me – I monitor things carefully, and try to talk during free times and use data intensive apps when I’ve got a wi-fi connection. Most months since I’ve got the phone I haven’t even burned up 250 MB of my quota.

Until last month. I haven’t made any major changes to my phone or phone habits, but all of a sudden my data usage was through the roof – I was over 500 MB with a couple of weeks left in the month, and then the next day another 250 MB were downloaded even though I was at home (with my wi-fi) the whole day and night. A couple of days later and my usage had topped 1 GB. Something was wrong, so I phoned my friendly cell phone provider’s support line.

You probably have an idea where we go from here. My service provider is Rogers. After being on hold for 15 minutes I got a human on the other end, explained my dilemma and asked how he could assist me in determining what was wrong. “I can’t help” he responded, “you are using third-party apps, and we are just the data provider.” When I countered that his company is much more than just my data provider to me, that they sold me the phone, and tied me to a 3 year contract, that they are my smart phone company, I was informed that I was mistaken: Rogers just provides my data. He WAS able to tell me that he could see large data downloads happening lately early in the morning (when I am asleep at home within wi-fi range), but not where these originated or which app was the culprit. He was dismissive and seemed to think I was a fool, the only advice he could give was to reset the phone and start again. When I asked to speak with someone who could potentially offer me, one of their loyal customers, some assistance with this problem I was passed off to another person with the same (lack of) info and smarmy attitude -it was as if by signing a 3 year contract I had stopped being important.

I’m a geek, so set out to resolve this on my own. I installed data monitor app and another to keep my wi-fi connection alive. Lo and behold, this month is almost over and my total data usage for a normal month of use is less than 5 MB.

This brings up a few questions. Why isn’t my phone provider more concerned about their service? Could it be that they enjoy the extra billing revenue and take customers on long-term contracts for granted? The existence of these applications indicate that my problem is not unique – would a company who cares about their customers not be aware of such issues and prepared to help resolve them? Isn’t the extra margin they could make by helping me cut back 200MB / month of data that I’m paying for anyway enough? To me the most important question is: will the bad will created in people like me ultimately cost these oligarchs more in the long run than they gain in the short run? Haven’t they been watching the decline of the once powerful music, television, and newspaper giants?

I’m sure that Rogers is not alone in this, and imagine that the same thing happens regularly to customers of all major Canadian carriers. Certainly with the rise of use of these types of devices there will be a lot of extra revenue generated in the next few years due to issues like this that could and should be easily avoided. Of course, in the long run the large carriers that treat their customers like the media giants of the 80’s and 90’s did might wind up facing the same problems those dinosaurs have. I hope so.

The morals of the story:

  • If you are using a smart phone, look into open source apps for monitoring costly data traffic and keeping wi-fi connections alive
  • If you are a media conglomerate hoping to not only survive but grow, start treating your customers as if they are important. It isn’t as hard as you may think.