Lately, I’ve been researching new cell phone carriers. We currently have AT&T, which Kim Komando affectionately refers to as having “more bars in fewer places”… in direct contrast to their actual slogan of, “more bars in more places.” Gotta say, I agree with Kim. Our phones work just fine IN town. But once you get out here, at our place? Even though we’re perched on a hill, I am lucky to find two bars floating through my house at some point during the day. And that’s usually in the upstairs bathroom or at the back of my closet. Most often, it’s one or zero bars. Around here, the carrier to have is US Cellular. Which I would switch to in a heartbeat, except….
Steve is blind. You knew that. I refer to it often. But why does that matter? Because the new phones are ever-more visual, and not very tactile at all. I have a Razr V3. See how flat those keys are? Steve can use my phone, kind of, because the 5 still has a bit of a bump to it, and the edges of the keys are outlined. And because, before his accident, he had the same phone so he knows the layout. But he once tried to use Haley’s phone (for those without your scorecard, Haley is our neighbor/babysitter/friend extraordinaire), and he couldn’t do it, because the keys were so flat that he couldn’t differentiate between the keys. Even though the 5 was “marked” – I could see the bump, but he couldn’t feel it. Right now, he’s using a dinosaur – an old Siemens that my brother had laying around. Amazingly enough, it still works. Even better, it has raised and separated keys that Steve can feel easily. But it doesn’t talk to him, so he can’t use any of even that phone’s most basic functions – like the address book. So that brings me back to my search, and by extension, my current frustration.
There is an aftermarket piece of software called “Talks”, made by Nuance. From what I hear and read, it’s a very cool program that enables “any” cell phone to be used by a blind person. It will allow the user to interact not only with address books, but also with text messages, and even browse the internet. Very cool, and very useful for someone in our position. The problem? It doesn’t work with any cell phone. It only works, at the moment, with Nokia phones, two Samsung phones, and, according to Verizon (the carrier which announced a partnership with Nuance/Talks), selected Motorola phones. And mostly, only with phones that work without that little SIM card. It works for a few SIM phones, but not many.
My problem? Verizon covers even LESS territory around here than does AT&T. And they are, by far, the most expensive carrier out there.
So, today, I’m surfing around the net, and I stumble on this article: Google Unveils Nexus One Superphone. This “superphone” is supposed to be a direct competitor to the iPhone, but that’s not what got my attention. The line that got it was this one, “Already available Tuesday, the phone costs $180 with a contract or $530 unlocked, leaving the phone open to other carriers.”
Open to other carriers? This is what I’ve been complaining about for YEARS! Why should I (or anyone else, for that matter) have to buy a new phone every single time we change service providers? Years and years ago, when Ma Bell was the only phone company around, ‘she’ provided phones. When other manufacturers started creating phones as well, ‘she’ tried to block them out, only to run smack into the US Government’s (back when it still acted in an honorable capacity) anti-monopoly laws, and was forced to allow phones by any manufacturer to work with their service.
Now here we are, decades later, and we have the exact same problem as we did back then. We have proprietary phones. My Razr V3, which, at one point in time, was offered by two major carriers and several minor carriers, can only be used by AT&T. If I chose to switch carriers, but wanted to continue using the Razr, I would have to purchase a brand new one. Same brand, same model, even the same color, if I wanted. But I’d have to purchase a NEW one, because they are made to be proprietary – to only work with a specified provider. No matter that I just shelled out close to $200 for the first one, and now have to shell out another $200 for the exact same damn thing!
I’ve been told that there is a way to “release” the phone from it’s proprietary status… which would be exceedingly handy in Steve’s case, because then we’d be able to – in theory, anyway – buy him the Nokia of his choice, install Talks, and use it with US Cellular. But, in doing that, we also void any and all warrantees on the phone. And the way my luck runs, ten minutes after de-proprietarying (new word for the day) the phone, it would explode, and I’d be out a couple hundred bucks.
So here’s my question: what the hell? Why is it so ghastly horrible for Ma Bell to have her phones be proprietary – so bad, in fact, that the Feds got involved – but now, it’s no big deal?
My brother constantly throws the “free market” explanation at me: “The iPhone (for example) is special technology, and Apple is free to choose who they want to contract that special technology with.” Ok, fair point. But this is a different argument. Motorola had chosen at least TWO different carriers – several, at the height of the Razr popularity – with which to “share their technology”, but they didn’t make the phones interchangeable. The same Nokia phone is available through several different providers, but you can’t take your Nokia from US Cellular to Verizon. Sounds to me like a situation exactly like the Ma Bell of history. So where are our illustrious leaders?