Remember the days when you didn’t have a cellphone? Life was easier and cheaper then. We had less stress. We had to plan our days around whether we needed to stop for milk and bread on the way home, and if we got home and found out our spouse forgot to call us at the office to ask us to stop and get milk and bread, we’d grumble a little, put our parkas back on (this was also pre-Climate Change / -Global Warming) and run down to the Wawa to get us some milk and bread. We also didn’t have to worry about the Shannon’s and Jeremy’s of the world crashing into us while they texted with the BFF's about the latest Foster the People CD on their way home from the library.
I loved those days.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Labor released figures last fall indicating that spending on phone services rose more than 4% in the previous twelve months, the fastest rate since 2005. Even though most of us have had to drastically cut back on our spending and household budgets over the past four years, most of us are now spending $200 every twelve months for the latest Smartphone and then spending around $100 per phone a month (few families have only one cell phone, with most family members having their own phone). You are probably thinking right now "I can't live without my cellphone," but you actually can, you just chose not to live without it. According to the same DOL report, the average household's annual spending on telephone services rose to $1,226 in 2011 from $1,110 in 2007, when Apple Inc.'s iPhone first appeared.
We are busting our family budgets so we can guarantee constant, annoying contact for ourselves, our spouses and our collective Jeremys and Shannons at the same time we are spending $2.2 billion a year to provide cellphones free to other people.
Families with more than one Smartphone are now paying up to $4,000 a year for their cell service – far eclipsing our cable and Internet bills and in some cases our other utility bills as well.
Carriers like Verizon and AT&T count on increasing speeds to drive business knowing that as the technology improves the public’s demand for the next big thing will remain insatiable. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, US wireless carriers brought in $22 billion in revenue selling services such as mobile email and Web browsing in 2007. By 2011, data revenue had jumped to $59 billion. By 2017, UBS expects carriers to be pulling in an additional $50 billion a year.
Families across the country are cutting back on other life-style choices like vacations and dining, and in some cases even necessities like food and home repair because of increased spending on what is little more than luxury. Seriously, who really needs a Smartphone? Driven by relentless advertising, we have enslaved ourselves to the gadgets in our pockets. I know what you're thinking but that was a different decade, and we didn't have cellphones so we actually had to engage with people face-to-face.
Now a report in today’s Wall Street Journal states that the “US government spent about $2.2 billion last year to provide phones to low-income Americans, but a [review] of the program shows that a large number of those who received the phones haven't proved they are eligible to receive them.”
After the FCC tightened its requirement rules last year, the agency estimated that 15% of participants would be weeded out. However, a review of the program by the FCC at the request of the Wall Street Journal showed that 41% of their more than six million subscribers either couldn't demonstrate their eligibility or didn't respond to requests for certification.
The program is administered by the non-profit Universal Service Administration (U.S.A. for those of you not fully paying attention) and participants qualify if they are on food stamps, Medicaid or other assistance programs. The U.S.A. program pays carriers $9.25 per month per customer toward free or discounted wireless service. Proponents of the plan say it is necessary now that phone booths have gone the way of a prosperous American economy, and that without the free cellphones disadvantaged people would not be able to call police in the event of an emergency.
The program is funded by private cell phone subscribers (you and me) who are hit with a surcharge that averages of $2.50 per month, per household.
As a country, how broke can we be if we are paying up to $4,000 a year to stay connected to kitty pictures and the tipsy musings of middle-aged adults on another lonely Saturday night on Facebook while we are subsidizing the same unnecessary wastes of time and money for those who would rather not pony up for their own phones?
We're either broke and stupid, or not broke and comfortable whining about being broke.