Looking for our new site?

Can You Hear Me Now? Why Your Cell Phone is So Terrible

A Future Tense Event from Slate Magazine and the New America Foundation
Slate Magazine

On April 2nd, in a Slate/New America Foundation Future Tense event, Farhad Manjoo, Sascha Meinrath, and Tim Wu discussed the pros and cons of modern cell phones and the cell phone market. The panel explored how the market can be changed so that there’s more competition and better service, and what the federal government can do about bandwidth development. The panel was moderated by Nicholas Thompson, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Editor at Wired Magazine.

Farhad Manjoo, Technology Columnist for Slate Magazine, outlined a “Bill of Rights” for cell phone users. For one, he said, customers need better data, including detailed data on the dropped-call rate per plane in a specific geographical area. Second, customers’ trial periods, in which they can return the phone, should be advertised more explicitly in contracts. Third, Majoo emphasized, cell phone bills are too complicated; there should be a simplified standard presentation to customers so that they can compare costs across planes. Lastly, he said, customers should have the right to unlock their cell phones, rather than having phones tied to certain plans.

Sascha Meinrath, Director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, detailed how the United States is far behind other countries, Japan for instance, in broadband development. The best results for customers, he said, come from a robust interplay between government mandates and free markets. Countries where free markets are properly regulated, he said, result in far better outcomes for customers. More broadly, Meinrath said, areas of exclusivity in the market should be broken down. The unbundling of plans would be an important first step, he said.

Tim Wu, Professor at Columbia Law School and Fellow at the New America Foundation, as well as a Contributing Editor for Slate Magazine, spoke about the future of the United States cell phone market. Industry providers, he said, if they were being honest, would probably agree that one national, natural monopoly would be in their best interests. This, he said, would allow for an R&D department that could help put the United States far beyond other nations. Americans might be able to get the best out of such a monopoly, which is where the economics naturally push the market, he said, and the United States may well see a return to such a market in the future.


About the Future Tense Event Series

Slate and the New America Foundation recently announced a new partnership, focusing on emerging technologies and their transformative effects on society and public policy.  Click here for more information.


Farhad Manjoo
Technology Columnist, Slate Magazine

Sascha Meinrath

Director, Open Technology Initiative
New America Foundation

Tim Wu

Professor, Columbia Law School
Chairman, Free Press
Fellow, New America Foundation
Contributing Editor, Slate Magazine

Nicholas Thompson
Senior Fellow, New America Foundation
Senior Editor, Wired Magazine

Event Time and Location

Friday, April 2, 2010 - 10:00am - 11:30am
New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

Event Materials

Event Photos

Click here to view these photos.
A range of photos from this event are available on Flickr. Click on the icon at left to view or download the photos.