By Lou Washington

Ed Hansberry takes smartphone vendors to task in his 26 January 2012 article in InformationWeek for overloading consumers with a bewildering array of options, fees and other variables used to determine the price of a smartphone plan.

He has a point and it is tempting to assume the whole strategy is designed to deceive, misrepresent and somehow maximize the total monthly bill for a given plan. I’ve had my own battles with communications companies but I would have to say, with some patience I was able to set things right with both my mobile carrier and my home landline/data-line vendor.

I always started with the assumption that in the final analysis, these guys are all phone companies at heart. Phone companies have long lived in the blissful world of semi-regulated utility. This gives them a real leg up when it comes to creating inscrutable pricing structures driven by complex billing metrics that offer no real verification methodology to the consumer.

For example, my local phone company bill was setting me back about US$130.00 per month. I would periodically contact the phone company and ask them to review my bill and see why it was so high. They would typically assure me that the bill is accurate, you have land lines and a data plan and this is just what the bill comes to.

One day, I decided that I really had to figure out why the bill was so high. I paid a visit to the phone company retail outlet and brought a copy of my bill with me. I reviewed the bill with a fellow who actually took me seriously. We got rid of the long distance plan all together (who needs it when you have a cell phone), we dropped the special hardware package which was an antiquated answering machine, we 86ed the call waiting, call forwarding, call whatever else.

When we got done, I had the most basic phone plan required in order to maintain my broadband data line. I’m now saving about US$50.00 a month.

On the mobile side of things it is pretty much the same story. I had a Blackberry that featured a lot of calling minutes and their data plan. It was setting me back about the same amount as my land-line/data-line bill. I dumped the Blackberry, bought a couple of mobile devices and a 3G hotspot card and saved about US$40.00 per month on that.

The problem is when we sign up for this stuff, it all makes sense. They explain it and you agree that what you are buying is what you intended to buy. Then you ask, how much will my monthly bill be?

This is the funny part; They Can’t Tell You! The guy will hmm and haw, scratch his head and say something like, oh, ’bout sixty a month. Then you get the bill, it’s eight pages long, loaded with FCC regulatory citations and ICC taxable items along with a bunch of feature codes and descriptions that don’t sound like anything you really need. Finally, on the last page there is a total dollar amount. That is a number no where close to anything quoted, estimated, guessed or printed in your documentation and contract.

That’s your monthly fee.

In the end, you weigh two things. What do you get? How much does it cost?

You have a miraculous device that allows you to call anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world and talk to anyone who happens to pick up. It also has a nice big touch screen so if you want, you can watch a movie or a football game or play Angry Birds. You can get your email, you can buy and sell anything, you can listen to music from any genre, you can plan your vacation and start your car up without leaving your nice warm house. You can view pictures of your family or your dog or your hot car and you can show them to the guy sitting next to you on your next fight to Des Moines.

All of this you can do and a lot more.

Then you figure, you know, it’s worth it. I’ll sort out the bill next month.