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Verizon or AT&T Breaking Your Heart? Why Not Dump the Bitch and Make the Switch?

Topics: Technology | Add A CommentBy admin | September 19, 2012

There was a time when “prepaid” meant “brokeass”, but prepaid cellphone providers are now amongst the top-rated, beating the big three with low prices, solid coverage, and NO CONTRACTS. Switching mobile providers is easier than you think.

Dump the Bitch
This parody image borrows from an
hilarious book by Cynthia Heimel

Years ago, whenever I was having problems with a girlfriend, a dear friend of mine who was gay would cattily say “Why don’t you just dump the bitch and make the switch?” In spite of the sexist term, this always drew a laugh and eased some of the seriousness of the situation. So I’m here to offer you some similar advice. I know, I know. You’ve been with her for what – two years? Five, ten years? In the beginning, she was sweet to you. She seemed to give you the world, and all she asked in return was a little loyalty. “Just promise you’ll be with me for TWO YEARS” she said, “and I’ll give you everything you could possibly want”. And she WAS like a new lover every two years, getting a complete makeover, just to please you, because she knew that others were vying for your attention. Then, at some point, she started getting a little more clingy. A little more selfish. She had you roped in, so she said “Well, if you really love me, you’ll stick around ANOTHER two years. But this time, I’m not putting out. And if you want to keep me happy, you’ll have to THROW DOWN SOME CHANGE, buddy!” After a while, even though you needed her pretty much 24/7, you felt trapped and exploited. And by then, there were only a couple of others who still might want you, and they seemed to be just about as high-maintenance. How would you ever escape this smothering relationship? Well, as it turns out, there’s some fresh blood in town, so maybe it’s time to break it off.

Whether you’ve been with Verizon or AT&T (by far the dominant duopoly) you may have noticed that over the last decade, the monthly rates have skyrocketed, the great deals have dwindled, and the service – unless you’re paying through the nose for a premium data plan – is no better than it was (and in some cases is worse) than ten years ago. For me, this finally reached critical mass a few months ago, when I went into the local Verizon store for my “new every two” deal. First, I’ll share my little story (I’d love to hear yours in the comments!) and then I’ll tell you how I discovered that “pre-paid” no longer means “broke-ass”, and how easy it was to find and switch to a new provider.

So below is my story. As I said, we’d love to hear yours in the comments. If you don’t want to read my sad tale, just skip to the alternatives I list at the end.

Part I – An Arranged Marriage

I had been with Verizon ever since about 2001, when my brother played a dirty trick on me. I didn’t really *want a mobile phone; I still view them as a noose of sorts as much as a convenience. At Christmas, after months of dogging me about getting a cell phone, he came to my house with a small gift. I sampled its size and heft, and said “Great. The gift that keeps on giving”. If only I’d known the truth of my joke at the time. So I joined the ranks of zombies locked into restrictive contracts that were made moderately acceptable by a cheap or free phone. Does anyone even REMEMBER how absurd those contracts seemed when they were introduced? Since I was with Verizon, the crappy inducement was their “new every two” plan. This was kind of okay the first time around; the new phone options were actually decent, and although the rate increase was annoying, it seemed dealable at the time. But that was the first time I felt the nagging annoyance that would become my marriage to Verizon. The rates around 2001 were about double the cost of a landline, but you thought to yourself “But I can use it ANYWHERE, so it’s cool”, in spite of the fact that in reality, service could still be patchy.

Part II – Renewing the Vows

I think it was Yakov Smirnoff who said “In Soviet Russia, VOWS break YOU!” This is nowhere more true than with the duopoly mobile providers in America. The next time I renewed the contract, the phone options were a little crappier unless you paid additional fees, and the rate went up another 20%, in spite of the fact that providers were making MILLIONS selling ringtones (Really people? You’ll pay good money for a RINGTONE?) and added features. And by “added features”, I mean things that were already in the phone, that American providers disabled, so they could charge you to enable them. To me, this has always seemed like selling a car without wheels, and charging some looney fee for them as a “luxury” feature.

Part III – Thoughts of Divorce

To be honest, this was a shotgun wedding for me all along, but the next time Verizon and I renewed our vows, things got ugly. I had this Samsung two-way flip phone with QWERTY keyboard, because I had started texting a lot (I still am not at all interested in web browsing on a phone). I actually really liked this device. It’s an incredibly smart design for text and voice usage. So when I went to renew, even though I knew the bastards might up the rate, I thought well, at least I can get a replacement for this awesomely functional phone. No dice. I had to get the next version of the phone. Which wasn’t on the “new every two” plan, even though it was almost exactly the same phone. Oh well. I’m adaptable. I paid the extra amount, and as I went to sign the contract, the sales guy said “and your new rate will be….” and named a figure that was nearly 30% higher than my current plan. “What!?!?!?” I said, the multiple interrobangs almost visible in the air. He explained that my new phone (nearly identical to the old one) required signing up for an expanded web data plan. “But I don’t USE the web” I pleaded, to no avail. BAM. My bill had climbed from about fifty bucks to about a hundred bucks in eight years, and my rewards for loyalty were DIMINISHING with time, rather than EXPANDING.

Part IV – I Want a Divorce, Honey

So here we were in 2012. Over ten years as a faithful partner. I sort of expected more abuse, but I was psyched for it. Sure enough, any phone available on the (soon to be discontinued) “new every two” plan sucked. So I had decided to plunk down some money for a high-end smartphone. It was between the Razr and the iPhone. I went to the local Verizon store, ready to renew and spend 200 bucks. The clerk was really helpful; he really knew the phones. Probably because he has nothing else to do, standing in a Verizon store that’s empty about 99% of the time, even though it’s on the main street of a busy Midwestern college town. But anyway, after some diddling, I selected the Razr, moved to the counter to finish the transaction, and ran into the first snag. Even though I was physically there with photo ID, their system wouldn’t let the guy access my account without “the password”. Which was no password I had ever used. I showed him that I could check my voicemail AND access my online account with OTHER passwords, to no avail. We had to call my brother, who verbally identified himself as himself, and okayed access. That’s some seriously ‘tarded security you got there, Verizon. Walk it through. So then, the guy explained the cost of the phone. It was 125 bucks, thanks to Mother’s Day discounts and my new every two. Cool. “So I can spread that over a few bills like we always do, right?” I asked. “Sorry” he said, “Verizon no longer does that for its customers”. I asked why, and he said – no joke – that “Verizon was being abused by its customers and they had to stop”. I observed that I had never heard those words in that order, but said “Fine. 125 bucks out the door. Got it.” Then he said “and the new rate is…..’ Okay. Wait a minute. The new rate thing again? Yes. The new rate was going to be almost 130 dollars. I suggested that was a bit steep, and as we debated what “reasonable” and “steep” meant, the manager, who was in a nearby sales island, gophered up and babbled something in support of the clerk’s assertion. “What is this, a USED CAR lot?” I said, and he chuckled and went back to his business. I apologized to the clerk for taking his time, explaining that I wasn’t prepared to pay that much, and would have to ponder it for a day or so. I might have caved, but the next day I got my bill by email, and it was almost THREE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS. Why? They hadn’t notified me that my plan had changed months before, and I happened to use up about 100 minutes of airtime with a non-Verizon user. I knew that if I called and pleaded, they would knock the bill down, if I renewed my contract. But they had finally crossed that line. I wanted a divorce, and I wanted it NOW.

But I was scared to meet someone new.

Part V – My New Life as a Swinging Cingular

So that very day, I went on Facebook and asked people what they were paying for mobile service, and if they were happy. I wasn’t all that surprised to find that a lot of people were paying over a hundred bucks a month, but I was ASTOUNDED to discover that they claimed to be happy about it. But sprinkled amongst these responses were a few people who mentioned companies like MetroPCS, Boost, Virgin, and T-Mobile. And said they were paying as little as 35 bucks a month for unlimited EVERYTHING. Ah, the “ghetto phone”, I smugly said to myself. Sure. Sign up with the company that all the drug dealers and poor people use. But I sensed that my pretensions and prejudice were probably ill-founded, and did a little research. And pretty quickly discovered the magical new world of high-quality prepaid phone services. And I made one of the best investments I’ve made in a while first up, which was a membership with Consumer Reports, which helped me learn more about how several new companies are taking a bite out of the two-headed monster’s market. And thanks to number portability and low rates, I’ve been testing them all out with a few friends.

Below are some suggestions and opinions, but hell, if you’ve been in a dead-end marriage with Verizon or AT&T for years, maybe it’s just time to get out and play the field yourself. The risks and costs are low, and the benefits are exceptional. I’m saving enough in the first six months to pay for an entire year of my old service with Verizon.

Top Five Pre-Paid Phone Providers

These are all Amazon links, because that’s one of the easiest way to see up-to-date pricing and user reviews side-by-side.

Metro PCS
LG Beacon

LG Beacon Metro PCS

Unlimited Plans

Since I’m something of a QWERTY addict, this rugged and basic little slider is what I signed on to MetroPCS with. With their $40 a month plan, I saved the difference of breaking a typical provider contract in four months, and now have an UNLIMITED plan. Their cheapest plan includes “unlimited everything” except Visual Voice Mail, International Texts, Premium Directory Assistance and MetroNavigator features. I don’t do much browsing, so its limited browser doesn’t bother me. It has been an excellent phone for talk and text, with a solid, slide-away keyboard and good voice quality. Criticisms? The LG Beacon’s interface is functional, but less-than-stellar, and although coverage seemed good in every state I’ve used it in so far (MI, OH, IN, IL, FL, TX, NM, CA) it seems to be a bit unpredictable in suburban areas where one would expect better reception.

Boost Mobile
HTC EVO Design 4G

Boost Mobile - HTC EVO Design

Unlimited Plans

This is the phone and provider I’m currently testing. Although some Razr or iPhone owners may look down on phones like the EVO, it’s a top-rated Android phone, and certainly does everything most people will need. Boost seems to offer solid rural and non-urban coverage. At least as good as Sprint’s anyway, since that’s the primary network provider. They also have some great loyalty plans, especially if you felt more abused than rewarded by Verizon’s “screw every two”. For every six on-time payments, Boost lowers your monthly payment by $5, with a low end of $35/month.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile - HTC EVO V

Complete Voice and Data Unlimited Plan – $55; with voice caps of 300/1200 minutes – $35/$45

Virgin Mobile gets some of the highest ratings from test organizations like Consumer Reports. And if you really want your iPhone, they offer the 4s as of this writing. Coverage from Virgin should be comparable to Boost, since they also use Sprint as the primary network provider. The most common complaint with Virgin is customer service and problem resolution. This may be something they’ll work on; who knows. But as long as you aren’t spending hundreds on their top smartphones, the risk remains low, as with other pre-paid providers. Their pricing is a little odd too; unless you don’t talk on the phone much, the most expensive plan is probably the only sensible choice.

Samsung Exhibit II 4G

T-Mobile - Samsung Exhibit II

Unlimited Plans
(With complicated voice
and data restrictions)

T-Mobile wins my award for “Most Difficult To Decrypt Pricing Plans”. They range from thirty to seventy bucks, but they determine the pricing by data usage or voice caps that are a little confusing. That being said, they’re top-rated by most independent testing organizations. You will just want to be sure you know how you really use your phone, and understand the data caps before you select a plan. It is probably prudent to note that T-Mobile is in an unusual place in the market right now; after NOT being acquired by AT&T last year, which would have made AT&T an even bigger force in the Verizon/AT&T duopoly, they’re now duking it out in the field of smaller players.

LG 505C

Tracfone - LG 505C

Get a phone and airtime
for as little as twenty bucks!

Tracfone was an early player in the prepaid market, and it sort of shows in the “legacy” vibe of their offerings. They have rather complex plan options, but at the end of the day, you can get a phone and a month’s service for as little as about twenty bucks, provided you don’t plan to talk for more than 30 minutes. They make it easy to add airtime though, and offer double or triple your minutes deals regularly. They also benefit from the fact that they have deals with thousands of retailers in the US, which may make it easier to do business if you prefer dealing with people instead of websites. I personally probably won’t try Tracfone, but they have some amazingly dirt cheap pricing, and get good overall ratings from most test organizations.