Glass 1% empty: mobile phone costs

Glass 1% empty Glass 1% empty is what I’m going to brand posts which look at the media’s habit of taking what to my mind is clearly a good-news story, then somehow finding the grain of bad news in it and focusing on that. This happens rather often, so I won’t be covering them all.

Friday’s Guardian reported that the EU is soon to enforce a reduction in mobile phone call charges across Europe. Brilliant, I hear millions of mobile phone users cry.

But wait, cry the newspaper editors. It can’t be good news, it has to be bad somehow. Oh yes, here we go, this’ll do for the headline:

Forced price cuts would end free handsets, phone firms tell Brussels

So the story proceeds with the principle established that the call cost-cutting is OK but the “end” of free handsets is very bad news.

But just think about this for a minute. In the environmentally conscious world in which we sometimes like to imagine we now live, shouldn’t cost be related to consumption and waste? How does the mobile phone industry’s current business model shape up then?
 

Activity Consumption and wastefulness Cost to consumer
Making calls Negligible High
Replacing your phone at least once a year to stay fashionable and cutting-edge High Negligible

It’s not a great match, is it?

I don’t think I need to redraw my table to represent the model to be “forced” upon us by the EU, do I?

I suppose this comes back to the same principle as my thoughts on car running costs last week. In a capitalist system, to tackle environmental problems, the costs of polluting/ wasting/ damaging the environment need to be incurred in proportion to the pollution emitted/ waste generated/ damage inflicted.

What’s more, the table above is a completely artificial construct of the mobile phone industry. If we change the heading of the right-hand column to “Cost to mobile phone company”, “High” and “Negligible” swap places. It costs the companies little to connect and sustain calls, but of course phones are worth far more than they’re ever sold for.

If we’re to stand a chance of tackling global warming, companies simply can’t continue to be allowed to subsidise – often heavily – environmental damage and waste, getting consumers to pay through the nose for relatively non-damaging activities instead.

And that’s why, unlike the mainstream media, I think this story is, let’s say, 99% good news.