Mark Bridge writes:
Oh, those nasty mobile networks. They’re robbing us blind… at least, that’s what you might think if you’ve been reading the headlines this week.
Mobile users 'overpaying by £200', said the BBC. £5bn 'wasted' on mobile phone bills, said the Financial Times. It's the wrong tariff, Gromit!, said Telecom TV after hitting the Wensleydale.
The stories were based on a report from mobile tariff price comparison website Billmonitor.com. It calculated that 76% of UK mobile customers could be on a more cost-effective price plan, which meant mobile users were over-spending by an average of £194.71 each per year.
Tosh, I say. Many people are undoubtedly on inappropriate tariffs - but there are too many assumptions there.
Now, let me put my cards on the table. I used to work for a mobile network. And, as a freelance copywriter, I still work for mobile networks and mobile retailers. But I don’t think that invalidates my opinion any more than Billmonitor’s commercial activities invalidate theirs. So I’ll continue.
To start with, I’ll knock three-quarters of a billion quid off the total. The report says 19% of people on the ‘wrong contract’ have the right level of inclusive minutes but are either wasting money by not optimising free benefits, data and text allowances or other costs - or are missing out by not taking advantage of lower costs from longer contracts. So… if you signed an 18-month contract but could have got a better deal by committing to longer, you’re on the wrong tariff. Of course, if you’d signed a 24-month contract but your circumstances had changed, you’d be completely stuffed. That’s not something factored in to the calculations. Altogether, there’s a total of £740,000,000 that arguably isn’t really wasted at all. It’s no more ‘wasted’ than paying for insurance is wasted if you don’t claim.
What else isn’t in those calculations? Not all network deals, such as discounts for specific numbers, are included. Fair usage allowances for ‘unlimited’ deals are missing too. And the Billmonitor calculator makes assumptions as well. However clever the maths, it can’t account for everything.
On top of all this, no-one seems to be admitting that customers are happy to pay for convenience. A ‘bundle’ of calls and texts isn’t merely a marketing ploy, it’s a consumer benefit. If you don’t want a call allowance, you don’t need to have one. In fact, you don’t even need to have a monthly mobile phone contract at all if you’d rather ‘pay as you go’.
Paying for convenience also sees us throwing away stale milk instead of keeping a cow - and not reading all of the Sunday paper because we don’t have time to do our own reporting.
Finally, I doubt that similar figures would have been given as much credence by the mainstream media if they'd been presented by spokespeople from other pricing comparison sites - such as Gio Gompario, Aleksandr Orlov or Omid Djalili.
Mobile network operators aren’t saints. But I don’t believe they’re con artists, either. That’s all I wanted to say, really.