If you have to get owned by the man, at least pick the man.
Now that net neutrality is a sad old corpse, internet providers may soon exert more control over what you access online. We don’t know how wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T will alter their terms, but in theory, they could slow down access to streaming services or social networks depending on how much you pay — or block sites altogether. If there’s a buck to be made by offering a “Netflix bundle” or a “complete social media package,” rest assured the corporations will go for it.
In short, you may soon find yourself with many more headaches when it comes to selecting an internet package. But there’s something you may not have considered: How should you purchase the phone that service is provided to? One thought: Buy it unlocked, directly from a manufacturer like Apple and Samsung rather than through your wireless provider.
If you want to be an online citizen in 2018, there are very few ways to do so without signing your life over to a monolithic tech giant. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with municipal internet service or a community-driven mesh network that you’re savvy enough to use, but probably not! Chances are, you’re also not in a position to manufacture your own personal smartphone.
But you can still carve out some wiggle room for yourself. Don’t buy an iPhone from T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or whatever company has the power to dictate what you access on that iPhone. Instead, buy it “unlocked” from Apple. (You can do the same with phones from LG, Samsung, Google, and so on.)
If you own an unlocked phone, you can take it to a different carrier if you decide to switch. If you buy a phone from Verizon and pay the company a monthly fee to use it, you can’t.
You’ll want the freedom to switch providers as painlessly as possible.
Flexibility may be key in the post-net-neutrality era. Say T-Mobile introduces a plan requiring you to pay a little extra for Snapchat, or Verizon throttles YouTube in favor of its proprietary Go90 video service: You’ll want the freedom to switch providers as painlessly as possible.
This is a dystopian future that is now all too likely, if not inevitable. Almost every major wireless company has made huge investments in making their own content. AT&T is acquiring Time Warner (which owns HBO, TNT, TBS, and much more) for $85 billion. Verizon snapped up Yahoo and AOL, which it now calls Oath.
There’s a similar problem with your home internet providers (Comcast owns NBCUniversal), but there’s really not much you can do about that. The average American only has one choice for home internet service. Wireless doesn’t have that problem. You can choose between at least a few providers — as long as you buy your phone unlocked and without a contract.
Yes, you’ll pay if you terminate your wireless contract early. And purchasing an unlocked phone typical involves paying for it all at once, so you won’t be able to use an affordable monthly payment plan.
The upside is that you won’t be a prisoner in a network that compromises how you use the internet — hard to put a price on that these days.