My blog usually sticks to law, but this got stuck in my craw:

Recent media commentary about how cellphone contracts are now only 2 instead of 3 years long helps to keep the elephant in that room invisible. I heard one “expert” point out that because the cell phone service providers now only have 2 years to recoup the cost of the phones they “give” us, monthly costs to the consumer might actually go up, contrary to the intention of the legislature. This comment shows how a strange situation has come to be seen as self-evidently normal.

The unspoken assumption is that cell phone service providers “give” us phones; and there is no way to get a cell phone aside from signing a multi-year contract for airtime.

In fact phones and airtime are two entirely separate commodities. But we assume you cant get one without making  two year commitment for the other. Why? Because we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we are not actually buying the phone. We get it for “free” from that kind service provider who then has to go to all the trouble of “recouping” the cost. We are trained to not appreciate that we BOUGHT the phone and are paying it off over time.

We then fail to see that by getting our cell phones from service providers we give up the ability to purchase airtime in the marketplace day-to-day. At best we think it was worth giving up that right because we got our phone for “free”.

Not only do we BUY the cell phone. We buy it from a middle-man, the service provider, who is actually in the business of selling airtime. Experts giving media commentary suggest the service provider has to “recoup” the cost of the phone. In fact they are profiting from the purchase we make that in turn prevents us from then being able to switch service providers in order to get the best price available on airtime.

Its sort of like financing your car through a gas station and in return you are only ever allowed to buy gas from that station, no matter how high the price.

Why does this situation persist? Somehow somewhere along the line we all got it stuck in our heads that our service providers give us a “free phone” when we sign up. Illusion, yes, but powerful. Or people talk of their “upgrade” – that’s when you buy a second phone from the same service provider and again pretend you’re not really paying for it.

But you are paying for your “free” or “upgrade” phones, in two ways. First, the cost of it is built in to your two years of monthly payments. Your paying interest as well as principal. Second, you have paid by forfeiting the ability to participate in the market place for the best rates on airtime.

As long as that persists, why would the service providers really compete on the price of airtime? Everyone is locked into contracts anyway and therefore not really able to ask for a better price. Who needs a good price on airtime when you get a “free phone” every few years, right?

It all supports the theory that the first step to controlling the way people think and act is to get them to speak in terms that favour your agenda. As long as people routinely talk about the great “free” phone or “upgrade” they locked into for two years, the cellular service providers in this country are safe to keep laughing at us, all the way to the bank.