Weekly Cell Phone News Report–March 17, 2014

The First Cellphone Went on Sale 30 Years Ago for $4,000
Somewhere in either Chicago, Baltimore or Washington, someone plunked down $3,995 to buy the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first handheld cellphone, on March 13, 1984–30 years ago today. A handheld portable phone was considered a gimmick, a “look what I got!” rich man’s toy with dubious utility. Measuring 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 inches and weighing 28 ounces, the 8000X was so big and heavy, even its creators had nicknamed it “The Brick.” Plus, you could only use it for a half an hour before the battery gave out. Who would pay a quarter of the average salary in 1984–more than $9,000 in 2014 dollars–to carry around such a useless load, especially since payphones were everywhere and only cost a dime to use? Story by Stewart Wolpin for Mashable.

Low-Income Californians Can Get Discounted Wireless Service
A new cellphone service is coming for low-income Californians. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the first-ever discounted wireless telephone service plan. LifeLine wireless will be available Wednesday. To qualify, you must be a family of four that makes less than $37,000, or a family of two or one person that makes less than $25,000. Story by Tom Murphy for Bakersfield Now.

Evolution in U.S. Cellphone Plans over Past Year
In the old days, U.S. wireless customers typically paid $100 or $200 for a phone and agreed to a two-year service contract. Although the phone actually cost hundreds of dollars more, wireless companies made up for it through the monthly service fees for voice, text and data. T-Mobile decided last spring to stop subsidizing phones and padding the service fees. Instead, it lowered those fees for everyone and charged for phones separately. A few months later, T-Mobile shook up the phone industry again by allowing customers to upgrade before the phone is fully paid off. Rivals followed with subsidy-free, no-contract phone plans that also allow frequent upgrades, though they continued to offer subsidized plans as well. Here’s a look at how wireless plans have evolved over the past year. Story by Anick Jesdanun for the Associated Press.

6 Things to Know About Getting the Best Cell Phone Deal
Competition is heating up. We help you choose the best deal. The battle has begun. In January, AT&T announced that, for a limited time, T-Mobile customers could get up to $450 in store credit for trading in their smart phones and switching to AT&T wireless. T-Mobile soon shot back with its own offer. Story by Lisa Gerstner for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Cellphone Providers Step Up the Competition
If you haven’t checked your cellphone bill in a while, perhaps you should. The four major cellphone providers have stepped up their competition with each other in recent weeks. When that happens it’s almost always good for consumers. When cellphones started becoming an ever-present part of modern life, the cellphone companies were in the driver’s seat, able to dictate terms. Now there are more cellphones in the U.S. than people and the cellular providers can only grow by taking customers away from their competitors. It’s the stuff of a good old-fashioned price war, especially with no-contract providers entering the fray and offering enticing deals. Story by Mark Huffman for Consumer Affairs.

Wi-Fi Alternatives Threaten Cell Carriers
Upstarts such as T-Mobile US have already shaken up the $180 billion wireless-service market with no-contract offers and phone financing, igniting a price war. Wi-Fi upstarts might present an even bigger threat. These tiny carriers operate at a fraction of the cost of cellular rivals, letting them sell service for a discount. Mobile-phone companies still have the advantage of much wider coverage areas than Wi-Fi. While business owners and cities have configured Wi-Fi networks to extend throughout buildings or parks, they don’t cover entire countries the way cellular networks do. Story by Scott Moritz and Olga Kharif for Bloomberg News.

Controversial Landline Telephone Bill Passes Michigan House
Phone companies are one step closer to having a streamlined process for dropping landlines in Michigan. The Michigan House on Tuesday voted 71-39 to pass Senate Bill 636, which makes it easier for a company to stop traditional landline or “plain old telephone service” in an area starting in 2017. The Senate must agree with changes made to the bill before it can head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his approval. Supporters, namely AT&T, say the change is needed to allow them to invest in more modern means of communication as droves of customers abandon their landline plans for mobile phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoiP) service. Story by Melissa Anders for Michigan Live.

Is It Time for That New Phone?
Welcome to the kickoff of smartphone release season. Waiting two years between upgrades may no longer be necessary. The four nationwide mobile operators–AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon–have begun to offer early upgrade plans, which allow you to get a new phone long before the next Olympics. A new phone without having to wait–sounds like a mobile dream come true. But once you pull out the highlighter and calculator to go through the complicated plans, you’re likely to find that suffering with your new-phone envy a bit longer is easier–and a whole lot cheaper. Story by Joanna Stern for The Wall Street Journal.

As Wireless Companies Fight for your Business, Prices are…Going Up?
Competition between two or more companies in the same industry is supposed to keep prices lower. When two brands are battling for your business, they’ll do almost anything to get you onto their team. So why are American cell phone bills going up instead of down? Story by Kevin Chupka for Yahoo Finance.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.