Rich Warren: Reader protests statement about cellphone companies
Once in a while we touch a nerve. This column avoids politics but sometimes inadvertently crosses the line. Thus, the following rebuttal to the Aug. 15 column:
"I am writing in response to your Aug. 15th article in The News-Gazette about cellphone companies. I think the first paragraph of this most recent article is beneath you: 'Cellphone providers prefer to pick your pockets to keep lining the pockets of their shareholders and chief executives.'
"I can't believe that you really believe this. AT&T, etc., have no different interest in pick(ing) your pockets than any other for-profit company. They charge you as much as they can in light of what they are likely to be able to collect without losing you to a competitor.
"How they charge is subject to change, and is an important and complex marketing decision.
"For instance, an airline might decide that rather than increasing the price of a ticket, it will charge more for luggage. This is, of course, irritating to those who travel with more luggage; it is probably pretty nice for those who travel light.
"You will recall the big hubbub about that just in the last year or so. Cellphone providers do the same thing: They charge what they can for their services. As a consumer, you have a choice:
"First, in your example, you could not use instant messaging. It does not differ much from free email, so I'm not sure why many people are using it anyway. Second, you are free to go to a competitor (which is probably doing the same thing, however).
"When companies do that, they are not picking your pocket, they are charging as much as they can for a service. They are supposed to be lining the pockets of their shareholders; you would be upset if, as a shareholder, the company was not lining your pocket. Shareholders, especially large shareholders, are in charge of how much the chief executives pockets are lined, and I think we can safely leave that issue to the shareholders."
When one reads this kind of statement, it often sounds like disguised investment advice. Apparently, AT&T is a great investment.
It must be paying a lot to its shareholders, and we should all buy the stock. But perhaps — not perhaps — telecom is a highly competitive industry with low profit margins (determined by the bottom line, not by charges for individual services).
I've discussed the topic via email with the reader, and we've agreed to disagree.
However, my main goal in running the original column was to alert you to alternatives to signing a contract with cellphone companies. Check out prepaid plans. You could save considerable money.
Lithium-ion batteries once again exploded into the news. There has been another rash of lithium-ion battery mishaps, and the U.S. Postal Service will not accept them for shipment.
Considering the vast number of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in use, the percentage that malfunction is extremely small.
Two main issues explain lithium battery problems. The first is manufacturing defects. No products exist where every unit flawlessly leaves the factory. Consider automobiles. Car defects can lead to death.
Second is user misuse and abuse, just like with cars. Know how long recharging requires and unplug the battery/product as soon as it completes recharging. Batteries should not be flexed, suffer extreme physical shock, or endure extended periods of high temperatures.
Don't leave your laptop or iPad in your car on a hot, sunny summer day. When recharging, ensure the battery/product is well ventilated and not placed on or near easily combustible material.
Never charge a lithium-ion battery with any charger not intended for that battery. If you buy a replacement charger, ensure its voltage and current, as well as its plug, are exactly the same as specified by the manufacturer.
A bit of knowledge and some common sense can go a long way to prevent battery failure and extend battery life.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.