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You'll be glad of that T-Mobile phone bill when you're hit by a car

Posted on 28/03/2002 at 15:05

The second bit of mail in a month from One2One came through the post yesterday morning. It bore a picture of a big shiny red balloon and in a comforting yet exciting blue exclaimed "Get Ready!"

Oh God, not more increased charges, was my first thought.

But it turns out the mail is just to inform me of how great it is that One2One will henceforth be known as T-Mobile. It doesn't bother to tell you that this is because some Deutsche Telekom executive has decided to pull all the company's mobile companies across the world under just one name, presumably to have some kind of brand benefit and make cost savings, or whatever the current suit buzzphrase is.

Anyway, we are assured that "things are about to get even better". How much better can they get? The last time One2One decided to send me a letter it also promised big things - and then went on to explain that call charges were going up, the cost of text messaging was going up and I was a really valued customer.

This morning, One2One's monthly bill arrived. £54.44. How does that work? I've had a mobile phone now for about two-and-a-half years. In that time, I have used it a lot some months and virtually never at other times. Five months ago, I even changed tariff after much tedious number crunching to cut the price of the bill.

But in all that time, I have only ever had one phone bill over £50. Today's. Now I don't know - in fact, I don't care - how One2One is getting me to pay more and more for using my mobile phone but it's doing it and it's beginning to get on my tits.

The question to ask is: Why? In a competitive market, how on earth are prices going up? Have they formed a nice oligopoly like the EU seems to believe they have in which they fleece customers by agreeing to odd little charges that you don't notice? Possibly. But the real reason is those infamous 3G licences.

In a moment of collective madness, the mobile phone companies decided that they wanted to spend several billion pounds just to be allowed to spend more billions building a network and then hope to get it all back with interest thanks to kids that want to send five-second clips to their friends at break.

There are now serious questions being asked about whether 3G is even going to happen. Maybe it will, maybe it won't but you can be damn sure that the mobile companies will find a way of getting that money back. Even if that means Fool-Boy here pays an extra £5 a month on his bog-standard-phone bill.

It's not all bad news though. Chancellor Gordon Brown prudently used the entire £22.5 billion paid in 3G licences to cut into the country's national debt. This means that the UK's annual interest is set to fall by £3.5 billion a year. And this money, as Mr Brown has continually pointed out, will be spent on things like hospitals, schools and other good causes.

This bit of political gameplay also tells the mobile companies that they don't stand a chance of getting any of the money back even if they plead bankruptcy. And so we get to pay. But you won't regret those extra few pounds a month when you're whisked through A&E thanks to being hit by a blue Volvo estate at the traffic lights and find that all the equipment and staff needed to bring you back to health are there waiting.

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