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MetroPCS Introduces Pay Walls for 4G Users: Web Favorites Locked Out Unless You Spend More

Hammer Time: MetroPCS introduces 4G/LTE service plans that establish pay walls for familiar web content.

Want a sneak preview of America’s Internet experience without real Net Neutrality?  Look no further than MetroPCS which has managed to turn the clock back to the early days of “mobile web,” where carriers pre-selected content and blocked much of the rest.  Want access anyway?  Then spend some time with a spreadsheet to figure out what service plan you’ll need and start counting out some ten dollar bills because MetroPCS promises a Long Term Expensive 4G  experience.

The business press focused on MetroPCS’ new pricing — delivering what the company calls “a selection of data access levels to meet customers’ lifestyles.”  But some public interest groups considered today’s announcement the first gauntlet thrown in the Net Neutrality war since the FCC voted to approve a watered down version of the open Internet policy last month.

MetroPCS called their new plans a boon to customers.

“Our customers told us they wanted more video, more sharing of their content and more Web browsing capabilities – they want to have it all with the value and no annual contract that only MetroPCS can deliver,” said Roger D. Linquist, president, CEO and chairman of MetroPCS. “Our 4G LTE network can deliver unlimited voice and mobile broadband data services and, with these new service plans, consumers are in the driver’s seat on how much additional data access and real-time entertainment content they want to pay for on a monthly basis.”

But many customers will discover the company’s road to good intentions pitted with potholes, toll booths, roadblocks, and diversions.

Just getting on this data highway to hell could be very confusing to customers who will need to think about what websites and services they need, want, or can live without, and then finding the corresponding service plan that makes it all work.

MetroPCS says it has three new pricing levels to consider:

  • The $40 service plan offers unlimited talk, text, 4G Web browsing with unlimited YouTube access.
  • The $50 service plan includes the same unlimited talk, text, 4G Web services and unlimited YouTube access as the $40 plan. Additional features include international and premium text messaging, turn-by-turn navigation with MetroNAVIGATOR™, ScreenIT, mobile instant messaging, corporate e-mail and 1 GB of additional data access, with premium features available through MetroSTUDIO™ when connected via Wi-Fi, including audio capabilities to listen and download music and access to preview and trial video content.
  • The $60 service plan provides the same premium features as the $50 plan, plus unlimited data access and MetroSTUDIO premium content such as 18 video-on-demand channels and audio downloads.

You'll need a smart phone to figure out what pricing plan actually delivers the services you need.

A customer could be forgiven if they assumed the $40 plan provided “unlimited web browsing,” which will be interpreted to mean they can access all of the content contained on those websites, but they would be wrong.  Beyond YouTube, MetroPCS customers will need to spend at least $10 more to access embedded video and audio, play online gaming, and access other rich media services.  Want to view videos from a website that isn’t among the carrier’s “preferred content partners?”  Forget it.

What about Skype, Netflix and other popular services?  Nuh uh.

Only the $60 monthly plan delivers unlimited data, along with pre-selected video and audio you can access… or not.

Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley called MetroPCS’ foray into the toll highway business a profit padding scheme.

“In December, the FCC chose to disregard wireless protections in its Net Neutrality order, and MetroPCS’s new scheme is a preview of the wireless future in a world without protections on the mobile Web. Such blocking of websites, services or applications would clearly be prohibited and deemed unreasonable on a cable or DSL network. Are these the kinds of restrictions the FCC really wants to promote on wireless networks?

“The open Internet order approved in December stated that the FCC was not implicitly approving practices on the mobile Web that violate its rule against unreasonable discrimination – and now we’ll see whether the agency is willing to do anything about such practices. Silence in the face of ongoing violations is no different from outright approval. If MetroPCS is allowed to engage in rampant discrimination and blocking of Internet applications and services, will Verizon be next? Will AT&T extend its history of blocking services like VoIP and Sling on its LTE network in the future?

“MetroPCS’s plan will restrict consumer choice and innovation in a developing mobile market, all for the sake of further padding its bottom line. The FCC must not stand idly by while carriers are engaging in anti-consumer and anti-competitive behavior, and we urge the agency to investigate.”

[flv width=”640″ height=”500″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MetroPCS 1-4-10.flv[/flv]

It’s too bad the company that regularly lampooned their wireless competitors in witty commercials has now adopted the same “gotcha” tricks and traps that will leave customers trying to figure out why they can’t access the web content they thought they paid to receive.  Watch a series of amusing MetroPCS ads and a brief review of the company’s new 4G phone courtesy of TheStreet TV.  “Hello. Hello. Hello.”  (7 minutes)

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