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Thursday, 10 January 2013 18:11

Vodafone gets antisocial with prepaid customers


Mobile carriers have made a big deal about offering unmetered access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but that seems to be going the way of the 'unlimited' downloads offered by Optus when it launched its Optus@Home cable internet service.

I must admit that I never really understood the rationale behind unlimited social networking, except that it was a very attractive offer to some parts of the market. After all, it's not like access to content services such as ABC's iView where ISPs can presumably use peering and caching to substantially reduce their costs.

Furthermore, my feeling has always been that a carrier should provide a pipe to deliver the bits in each direction and then stay out of the way. Which services a user selects should be at their discretion, and the involvement of carriers has a significant tendency to distort the market.

So I have mixed feelings about Vodafone's announcement that from February 13, prepaid customers will lose "infinite surfing" on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, YouTube and MySpace. This is likely to make a substantial difference to the costs faced by heavy users - or, I suspect, their parents.

It's not as if Vodafone is the first to make a change like this, but it's verging on the unethical - somewhat like offering kids a 'free taste', if you know what I mean, or at the very least a form of 'bait and switch' (bring in the customers with certain inclusions, then ask them to pay extra to continue their established practices).

The other change announced will potentially affect all Vodafone prepaid customers that use data, and will add further financial insult to social media addicts.

From February 13, Vodafone will start metering mobile data use in 1MB blocks on all prepaid services. While consistency is a good thing, a megabyte is a big chunk if all you do is send a single tweet or email, or look up a phone number, especially when they're charging $2 per megabyte for excess data. It's a bit like charging for voice calls by the hour rather than by the second.

You can see why people sometimes say they love their mobile phones but hate their mobile carriers.

Disclosure: the writer is a Vodafone postpaid voice-only customer.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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