Last updated: December 2, 2010 - 11:58pm
Within weeks, some of the biggest wireless companies will offer super-fast Internet connections for cellphones that rival the speeds delivered to desktop computers. As competitors follow suit with their own juiced-up networks geared for the Web, consumers can expect a cornucopia of new services - along with new charges.
For now, consumers can buy flat-rate monthly data plans from most carriers. But Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are moving toward tiered pricing packages based on how much data a customer uses. All-you-can-eat plans are no longer available to AT&T's new customers, who must choose from a menu of data services. The Federal Communications Commission is trying to keep up, launching an effort to prevent mystery fees and confusing increases from appearing on cellphone bills. The FCC is considering rules that require carriers to text or call users when they approach their voice and data limits. The regulation is aimed at avoiding "bill shock."
But the wave of changes is only beginning. Cisco, which provides routers for wireless networks, is working with corporate clients such as Verizon to create even more options for consumers. Users could opt for "turbo charging" streaming video feeds to their smartphone for an extra fee. Just pay a little more for "gold service" compared with "bronze service" for data packages and speeds. Consumer advocates say confusion is to the advantage of carriers.
"You have a population without true knowledge of how much they are consuming compared to carriers who have true knowledge of demand on their networks, and that assymetry leads to things like bill shock," said Sascha Meinrath, a director of the open technology initiative at the New America Foundation.
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