Why Do We Pay Five Times as Much as Scandinavians for Cell Phone Usage?

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A survey of 30 countries revealed that Americans, Canadians, and Spaniards have the highest cell phone bills in the world. Why? It’s not because we use our cell phones more.

In Finland and Sweden, which are considered extraordinarily expensive countries to live in, customers typically pay about $11 or $12 per month for their cell phones. But customers who use their cell phones just as often—but who live in the U.S. or Canada (or Spain, oddly enough)—usually pay monthly bills of between $42 and $53.

One explanation given for the big discrepancy is that North American consumers pay to receive calls, which isn’t the case in much of Europe. Basically, North American cell phone users pay more because they’re accustomed to paying more, so cell phone providers can therefore charge more. Most consumers are also tied into contracts lasting multiple years, and they don’t want to cancel their accounts if it means paying a big fee. But it’s only a matter of time before competition and consumer awareness force prices down in the U.S. Consumers are too smart (I hope) to pay four or five times more than they need to, or to continue getting roped into unnecessarily long contracts.

In related news, the WSJ’s always-brilliant “Mossberg Solution” column reviews a new Blackberry that sells for $49 at Wal-Mart (cheapest Blackberry yet?), but for $130 if you buy it from T-Mobile. And yep, you guessed it: A two-year contract with T-Mobile is mandatory, with service plans starting at $55 a month.

And fyi, I don’t pay any monthly cell phone bill. I have a pay-as-you-go phone that I use very sparingly. It does not have e-mail, camera, or wi-fi capabilities, but it puts me in touch with my wife when necessary. And it costs me a total of $100 a year, or $8.33 a month.