Money for Nothing: The Scam of iPhone Mobile Hotspot Charges

Over the summer, I will be doing a little traveling, but because I own my own business, I generally need to bring my laptop along, if for nothing more than an emergency. One place I'll be going does not have wi-fi, so my only access would be with my iPhone, which isn't really enough if real problems arose.

Several years ago, well before I had an iPhone, I tethered my phone to my laptop on a couple long driving trips. It allowed me to access the Internet -- albeit rather slowly -- while rolling down the highway as a passenger. The cost for this was zero. I paid for Internet access on my cell phone account, so this was simply an extension of that service. If I went over the allotted amount of data, I got charged a fee. It was a fair deal.

This year, when I began to explore setting up something similar with my phone, I realized the iPhone already has mobile hotspot capability. Since I had two gigabytes of data -- I almost never use more than one per month -- I figured it would be as easy as turning the option on. It wasn't.

When I called AT&T to see why it wouldn't work, they informed me that my account didn't allow the use of the mobile hotspot technology. In order to get use of something I already had, I was required to increase my data plan from two gigabytes to four and pay an additional 20 bucks a month. When I asked why I was required to pay for extra data I was very unlikely to use, they simply said it was their policy.

I passed, but decided to research it. There are services like Clear and NetZero that promise 3G and 4G wireless connection for as little as $9.99 a month. When investigating it, I realized that the cost for any decent amount of data (two gigabytes and up) was $30-$50 per month. So, that was out.

I looked into Verizon, but they have a plan similar to AT&T's. I realized that if I wanted this service, I was going to have to pony up and that's when I got annoyed.

I have no problem paying for bandwidth. I realize that it costs money to give people access to the Internet. But to be required to pay for bandwidth I won't use simply to activate a service that is already available on my phone is ridiculous. When that charge is $20-$30 per month, it's highway robbery. It is especially frustrating when they could easily charge me if I went over my allotted amount. They clearly state that if you are provided one gigabyte, that's all you get, but if you go over, they charge you $10 per gigabyte -- I'm betting they round up.

But instead of just allowing me to use what I need, they force me to pay them an extra $30 per month -- did I mention they now require I have a data plan that includes five gigabytes of data per month? Even if I worked on my computer using only my phone, I doubt I'd burn through five gigabytes per month. Maybe, but it's questionable. For me, I'll be using it very sparingly and certainly not to the degree that would require that much data.

Just as text messaging costs cellphone companies nothing to provide and they charge for it, providing data that goes unused creates a substantial amount of revenue for doing absolutely nothing.

There is another option. I could jailbreak my phone, meaning I would crack the code that would allow me to turn on the hotspot and use it via some kind of app, but I'd prefer to not do that. Not only is it overly complicated, it voids a warranty that I've found comes in handy when it comes to phones.

The problem is not mine anyway. This is on the wireless companies and Apple for not preventing this. I'm sure they could make the hotspots work without the wireless companies even knowing it, but they don't and we're stuck paying the price.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke