Cory Doctorow: I love the Internet because I can plug anything I want into it. No ISP tells me what computer I can use or what software it can run. Contrast that with the phone networks. Until 1968, it was illegal to even attach a non-Bell phone. Even today, phone companies charge for services like Caller ID. Imagine if your ISP charged you for seeing the “From” line in your e-mail.
Mobile-phone companies have inherited this arrogance, building their business models around nickel-and-diming customers. They sell you phones that can play musical ringtones and then force you to buy the song snippets you want to use, even if you already own the CD. They give you color screens for better gaming but charge you $7 for Tetris. They give you data but lock you into their Web browsers and charge you by the second to use them. Unlike my PC, there’s no freeware and no choice.
Yet I’m a net-head who learned to love phones again—specifically, smartphones such as the Sony Ericsson P900, the Nokia 6620 and the Treo 650. All come with operating systems ready to run software of your choosing because they’re made by manufacturers who treat you, not your carrier, as the real customer. If there’s something you want your phone to do, chances are that someone has built an app to do it that you can download and install, without paying the carrier’s monopoly pricing. When you can do that, the phone is truly yours.
How significant is this? Ringtones are currently a multimillion-dollar market. But my P900 shipped with a built-in utility for playing any MP3s as ringtones (and even if it hadn’t, there are several third-party players available that I could have used). Instead of selling me out to some record company that wants me to buy my music all over again, in five-second chunks, the P900 empowers me to create my own rings. This week, I use Looney Tunes samples I found online. Next week, it might be Star Wars clips or bits of TV theme songs from my boyhood. It’s my phone, and I’m in charge.