NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you want to buy a cellphone, you have lots of choices. Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobil, US Cellular, take your pick. And they all have dozens of plans, from discount limited usage to very expensive unlimited voice-and-data packages. Economists would call this a highly competitive marketplace. It doesn't need a lot of regulation. The companies themselves have market-based motivations to provide good service and low prices. If they don't, you'll switch providers.
But state lawmakers are considering new regulations for cellphone companies. The proposal from Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids) would make roll-over minutes mandatory. He argues that cellphone customers already buy plans with more minutes than they actually use because of the very high penalties for going over. And he's right. But the state should stay out anyway.
Competition, not regulation, is the cure for this problem. There was a time when no cellphone providers offered rollover minutes. Someone started this to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Now many companies have rollover. And they're competing based on how many minutes roll over, and whether they expire, and any number of other factors that makes you choose one company over another.
And if buying exactly the number of minutes you're going to use and not having them expire is important to you, the marketplace has already provided a service for you: Tracfone. You pre-pay for the airtime you need, and don't have to sign a contract. It's a company that exists because there's a market for that service.
What would happen if the state's cellphone bill becomes law? Certainly, rates would go up as companies cover the new regulatory costs. Some cellphone providers may not offer certain calling plans in our state. Some may choose not to do business here at all. And if the result is fewer choices, the companies that remain will have more price control over you in the long run.
So why does a cellphone bill even get proposed? Because for some, government regulation is a reflex to any perceived problem, and the virtues of a free market simply are not trusted.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau