My cell phone carrier, T-Mobile, just raised their text messaging rates yet again. Once upon a time, when I first had their service, it was 10¢ per message sent or received, but the first 15 incoming messages were free. An unlimited plan was available for $5/month, but I would've needed to have 50 messages for that to be worth it. At some point, when I wasn't paying attention, they dropped the "first 15 incoming free", which thoroughly annoyed me, but again, I still was way below the threshold where the unlimited package would be worth it. They also raised their rates to 15¢ per message (again, sent or received), but my text volume still fell below the threshold to make any package deal worth it.
One charming feature that T-Mobile provides is the ability to send text messages to any phone by using an email address. Send an email to email@example.com, and presto, they get a text message. Well, of course, spammers eventually caught on to this, and we started getting spam. Since T-Mobile charges per message sent or received, that meant we were paying for spam. Words cannot express how angry this concept makes me. Fortunately, T-Mobile's web site provides a very easy way to turn off the option to receive text messages by email. Once I found it (which of course wasn't exactly straightforward, although I don't know it's fair to say it was "buried", either), the spam stopped.
Just this month, though, T-Mobile raised their rates yet again. Now, it's 20¢ to send or receive every text message. Since they charge on both sides of this equation, that means for every text message one T-Mobile customer sends to another, they rake in 40¢. For an instant message. Nearly the same price as a first-class US Postage stamp (currently 42¢).
Oh, and to make matters worse, their $5 plan is now no longer unlimited. I think it is something on the order of 500 messages, and unlimited plans are $10 or $15 per month.
The part that bugs me the most about this is how they charge to receive messages. If someone calls me, I can see who is calling (or maybe Caller ID is blocked and I can't, but that's not the point), and I can choose to accept the call or not, thereby choosing whether or not I am going to use air time to take the call. But if someone sends me a text message, I have no choice. That text message is automatically delivered and accepted, and I am charged, whether I wanted it or not. It means my cell phone bill can be (and is) charged based on actions completely out of my control.
T-Mobile is not alone in this practice. That doesn't absolve them of the fact that they chose to engage in this rip-off.
I imagine some day it might be convenient to just have a portable internet device. Something that just has a constant internet connection, on which I could run an instant messenger client with voice capabilities. (Perhaps like Skype, which can call phones as well with a purchased plan, but even MSN Messenger can do voice chat, which might suffice.) That way, I could have my data pipe, and I could choose whatever services I wanted at whatever cost I decided best fit my needs. (For instance, just having MSN Messenger would mean someone couldn't call me from a land line; could I live with that?) That way I wouldn't be locked into a cell phone provider who tries to find new ways to make me pay for things, such as charging me for services I can't refuse.