The $117 Web Page

Ever hear of a web page that cost $117.33 to download?

I'm not necessarily complaining about this exorbitant sum, which my cell company AT&T charged me for data downloaded beyond my free monthly allotment of 5k. No, you read that right - five kilobytes. I mean only to express my amazement - and concern - that anyone in the United States thinks that 5k is a reasonable amount of free data in any phone plan. Of course, many people have similar plans, and many use their cell phones as infrequently as I do, perhaps a few times a week. But it never occurred to me that using this same phone, with all the bells and whistles of modern technology it comes equipped with, to check my email could cost me more than the phone itself cost to purchase.

There's probably a way to find out just what I was doing on August 17th that cost me $117.33, although I've reset Safari and cleared the cache at least once since then. But despite my own idiocy I think that plenty of web-savvy folk would be surprised to see a similar bill for their individual web usage. How is it that any supposedly high-tech company -far less one that specializes in moving digital datum- could consider it reasonable to charge such sums? Sadly, I get the feeling that this is part of a broader picture that illustrates just how far behind the curve America still is in terms of integrating high technology with society. Isn't it possible to purchase sodas with your cell phone in Sweden?

I think it's also indicative of America's larger problem with communications, specifically, that most people seem to feel that quantity always trumps quality. All of us have been standing in line at the grocery store while the person in front of or behind us (or, too often, both) blithely jabbers away on their phone about every insignificant minutiae of their day or week or life. In these circumstances, it is perhaps understandable if a cell company chooses to focus it's plans on voice costs instead of data. But there are a few constants in this 21st century of ours, and one should be that no one, NO ONE seriously considers 5k a month adequate for staying connected to the world. 5 megs would be more acceptable, if only for checking mail and bank accounts and so forth, although even that could be exceeded easily if a customer has mastered only weak spam-filtering techniques. (Myself, I have five email accounts and three levels of content analyzers, as well as a keen eye for when to use the dummies, say, registering for the NYT).

What this proves mainly is that I might be smart enough to get my Bluetooth-enabled phone to act as a wireless modem for my laptop (a PowerBook G4, which is actually trivially easy to set up in this regard). But I am also careless enough to use this phone freely without being certain of the terms of my contract. Let this then serve as a warning and lamentation: that it may be a long time, if ever, until the USA catches up with the rest of the civilised world in making data access as easily accessible as, say, toast.

Anyone else had this problem?

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