Fighting Back: What You Can Do

Last week I wrote about the real fight in mobile, how we have been distracted by Apple v. Google but in reality it is carrier v. device makers. My goal, to start, was to raise awareness and change the conversation. If we can stop in-fighting between Google and Apple and help the press focus on the real issues around carrier, then that is a great start.

What can you do? Easy. If you see people backsliding, remind them what the real war is. Write blog posts. Write comments to articles and blog posts. Keep up the pressure on politicians to not accept the carrier’s definition of net neutrality. Remind your favorite device and OS maker that we have their back. The hard work will be up to Apple, Google, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft to take the power away from the carriers. And this won’t be an easy task.

The fundamental problem is that carriers control the entire purchasing experience. I believe separating the device purchase from the subscription purchase is a huge first step.

Right now the US carriers act as a one-stop shop for all things smartphone. You go to a carrier to pick out your phone, to get your data plan. They even tried selling netbooks and are about to put their grubby little fingers all over tablets. If you can help it, don’t buy from carrier stores. Instead go to Apple, Amazon, Best Buy or your favorite local cell phone store. It’s not the end-all but it is a start.

This is a big company fight. Massively large companies fighting other massively large companies. And the US Federal Government has been bought hook, line and sinker on this one. AT&T and Verizon, combined, spent over $30 million on lobbying in 2009 alone (data here and here, respectively).

So how do hardware and OS makers fight back? First step is to understand there is a whole world of retail shopping out there that doesn’t involve the carrier stores. Apple is out in front on this one, selling a massive amount of devices through their own stores, Costco, Best Buy, Radio Shack and other retail outlets.

The second step will be separating the carrier from the device itself. Again, Apple as an example (and I wish I had another company to point to as an example), look at the iPad. You want 3G for your iPad? You buy it after market. Don’t be surprised if the future of the iPod touch is the same, offering an after-market 3G/4G plan if you want it. (And then use Skype, Fring, Google Voice or Facetime for all your talking needs.)

We can fight back and hopefully the device makers will fight back, too. In the meantime, we need to keep the pressure up and keep reminding ourselves that this isn’t about device maker v. device maker. This is about makers v. carriers. And the only way we, the consumer, win is by keeping the pressure up on all involved.


I should have called out MG Siegler of TechCrunch with my post last week and didn’t. MG has been writing a lot on this topic and want to thank him for being one of the few tech writers paying attention to this issue. A few samples are here, here and here.