Friday, May 20, 2011

The End of the Regional Plan

Everybody wants their wireless phone to have National coverage even if they never stray more than 100 miles from home. We want what we want, not what we need. During last week's Senate hearing for the AT&T/T-Mobile acquisition, it was brought out that AT&T competed with various wireless carriers at the local level providing a significant level of competition. The CEO of Cellular South, a carrier based primarily in Mississippi, argued that all cellular is now national based on customers no longer buying Regional plans. All carriers compete nationally and that puts smaller carriers at a disadvantage.

I checked with the top 15 wireless carriers and found that indeed none of them offer Local or Regional plans any longer. Too bad. That was a great way to save on a wireless plan when your carrier needs to pay fewer roaming charges. Nobody cares. We all want universal coverage.

Among the smaller carriers, "Unlimited" and "Data" plans are usually limited to a certain coverage area, either to their own network, or to that of a 'preferred' roaming partner's network. As an example, nTelos, a regional carrier based in Virginia and surrounding states shows their voice coverage with a map of the US with most of the country colored in. If you select "Data" or "Unlimited" services you get a very different map. You get what looks like the Sprint network map, shown here. Yes, it is not Regional, but it isn't quite National, either. It's OK if it works for you.

Many of the Unlimited wireless operators offer a value-priced plan with limited coverage, but even then, they normally need to include adjacent areas. There's no more interest in Regional and Local plans. After all, we want what we want.

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