I arrived in the United States a few months ago with my wife. It was my first time to America, and I was looking forward to experiencing new things and enjoying myself. However, I am becoming aware that far from being everything that America is hyped up to be, the United States is terrible place to live.
In many respects, it seems vastly less developed than my own country – India. In this article, I will focus on just one aspect of it. Namely how consumers are happy to let big corporations walk all over them. I realize that coming from another country gives me a unique perspective on what I see is very wrong with the economic structure here.
Image Credit: MSH*
Let me take the first concrete example of what I mean. In India, a consumer has complete freedom as to which telecom company they want to stay with. Say I have a handset. Based on whose service I like, I can choose to use that handset with any telecom provider I choose. And next month if I want to change over to another one, I can do so immediately. I can just replace the SIM card with that of another company. This is perfectly legal and is very much the norm.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that in America you have to buy a phone attached to a particular firm (Either AT&T or T-Mobile or whatever)! Not only that, you are obligated to pay them every month, or else your credit history is tarnished. It’s amazing. How do customers put up with such shabby treatment? It seems as if the big telecom firms are holding customers to ransom. I say shabby, because compared to India where the consumer dictates terms, in America the big corporations call the shots. You can’t switch schemes without paying a contract breaking fee etc. In other words, the corporations have you locked in.
In addition, people here are forced to pay for incoming calls. Regular Americans seem to be okay with this. In India, if a telecom company started to charge incoming calls they would be laughed out of business. As I said, you can switch over anytime you want. In fact (and this is hilarious), a particular telecom provider (Virgin actually) pays consumers for incoming calls! Yet American consumers are unaware that they’re being fleeced. And in fact, what choice do they have? All telcos are the same. Even if they were willing to switch after paying the “Contract breaking fees”, it would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Moving on, I will now proceed to demonstrate that Internet companies also take advantage of their consumers and force their whims and fancies down their throats. As of now, what is to prevent say AT&T from imposing a cap of 50 GB download per month on their consumers? In fact, proposals to limit and even monitor traffic are in the pipeline. If Americans are outraged by such activities, who cares right? What choice do they have? Shifting to Comcast is no better! Once more, honest Americans seem unaware of the fact that service providers can do whatever they want by just imposing their policies down people’s throats.
This could never happen in India. And I know why. In India, most of the infrastructure for telephone lines and the Internet (Over 95%) is owned by the government and private companies lease it from the government. The government has it’s own telephone and Internet service (Called BSNL). If at any time the major Indian telcos decide to collaborate and shove a policy down the throats of the consumers (including raising the prices to any level they want), we will just shift en masse to the government service! For the government to change it’s policies is a different issue altogether. If the government suddenly decides to charge incoming calls, they will be voted out of power in a heartbeat. Thus it will never happen.
Before coming to America, I thought that complete privatisation was a good thing. Now after coming here I see that it leads to exploitation of consumers through cartels. Having certain infrastructure in the hands of the government is a saving grace for Indian consumers who love their freedom and hate restrictions. And the first opportunity I get, I am going back. America isn’t the land of the free that I thought it was. Enslavement by corporations, and being held to ransom by having your credit history checked at every point is the norm. And I never want someone to be looking over my shoulder like that.