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The Ferryman: a parable on mobile data charges

There was once a Traveler who arrived at the edge of a wide spanning river.  Resting upon a rock was a lone Ferryman who greeted the Traveler with a wide beaming smile.  The Traveler enquired as to what was on the other side of the river.

“A great wealth of delight,” replied the Ferryman.  “Treasures beyond your wildest dreams and a lavish lifestyle for all to live.”

The Traveler was intrigued and asked how much it was to cross.

“Do you intend on visiting on a regular basis?”  responded the Ferryman.

This was somewhat perplexing for the Traveler.  “I don’t even know if I’ll like it.  Maybe I’ll just visit a couple of times and then make a decision.”

Then came the chilling reply from the Ferryman that haunts us all.

“Oh, you’ll want the casual rate then.”

“How much does that cost?”

“Ten gold pieces per return trip.”

The Traveler cringed.  Apprehensively he asked about the regular based charge.

“Well, it’s based on a monthly charge.”

“So what does it work out to per trip.”

The Ferryman performed some calculations and then came upon a result.

“One copper piece”.

The Traveler was gobsmacked.

“The casual rate seems rather excessive doesn’t it?  I mean you are traveling exactly the same distance, using exactly the same resources and yet you charge 1000 times more.  Seems like daylight robbery to me.”

The Ferryman was rather coy in his response.

“Well I suppose that is true.  There’s not a lot you can do about it however.  I’m the only Ferry for miles around.  All us Ferryman have an arrangement anyways – a casual rate and a monthly rate.  Not much you can do about it.  Now shall I issue you a ticket?”

“No thanks” came the response from the despondent Traveler and he walked on.

An interesting experiment in all of this is to examine and dissect the differentiations between casual and monthly data plans as provided by the Mobile telco’s here in New Zealand (but do not fear this is a world wide epidemic).

Firstly Vodafone’s data charges are viewable here 

http://www.vodafone.co.nz/pricing_plans/mobile_data.jsp

If we look at the Broadband Starter and Broadband Everyday packages they translate like this:

Broadband Starter – 200 Meg of traffic for $39.95 per month equates to approx 20 cents per megabyte of traffic.

Broadband Everyday – 1 Gig of traffic for $59.95 per month equates to 6 cents per megabyte of traffic.

Now lets compare that to the casual rate.  Vodafone charges at 1 cent per KB (rounded up to the nearest 10k) equaling $10.24 per meg of traffic.

So 200 Meg of traffic on casual rate will cost you $2048 – ouch.

But wait the pain is about to get worse.

If you were to use 1 Gig of traffic on the casual rate you would be up for $10,485.

Whoa, that can’t be right.  Well unfortunately it is.

What about Telecom.  Their pricing plans are viewable here.

http://www.telecom.co.nz/content/0,8748,202032-201933,00.html#bbplus

And they work in a similar environment.  Casually they’ll charge you $8 per meg of data, but they also have some unusual plans such at Mobile Broadband Flexi – where you pay $10 per month – you receive no data but they’ll only charge you $1 per meg of traffic.

It all comes across as very confusing and restrictive.  The HUGE disparity between casual and monthly rates seems a through back to the early days of the Internet aka daylight robbery.

I actually rang the Commerce Commission earlier this week regarding this matter.  Their response was that it was okay which left me stunned.  I argued that while there was validity for a variation in casual and monthly plans – that the difference between 6 cents per meg to $10.24 seemed rather excessive.  They then put the ownership on the consumer that they should make a decision before browsing.  Now that is very diplomatic but when we are trying to introduce potential users to the growing rich media environment of the mobile internet then there should be a teaser environment in which to offer.

Vodafone has an agenda in that it wants to promote it’s Vodafone Live portal – where browsing is free and there are no hidden data charges.  The irony is however that when you do choose to browse off portal – the hidden charges come from Vodafone.  It’s like an ISP saying that you are only allowed to browse on their homepage and nowhere else.

The next year is going to be an exciting time for the Mobile Internet both in terms of content and web development.  The telco’s need to rethink and entice people into this arena by making the casual rates more comparative to their monthly charges.

Keen to hear your thoughts.