I was recently on holiday up in Vancouver, BC. Unfortunately my GPS unit had not been preloaded with Canada maps, so in the interest of not getting lost, I elected to open a map once or twice on my smartphone. I knew that this would be charged as “roaming” data, and as a smart person I had done my research, and established that AT&T would be charging me the exorbitant price of… $0.015 per kB. Didn’t seem soooo terrible – I figured that opening a map would use a handful of kB tops. If I was unlucky I was looking at a few dollars worth of usage. How wrong I was.
Total usage: 4.6MB. Total charge: $69. FML.
Let’s put that in perspective. I pay $33 per month for internet at home. I can use up to 250GB on my plan without repercussion, although let’s say I average around 100GB. That means I pay around $0.000000315 per kB.
The upshot of this, is that the data I used in Canada cost me more than 47,000 times as much per byte than my home internet plan. Forty. Seven. Thousand. For those keeping score, that means that if the roaming charge was the standard rate, I would be getting a 99.9979% discount on my internet bill every month. You can’t make these numbers up, we’re talking mind-bogglingly disparate numbers here.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the implications of roaming. AT&T has to negotiate with third-party providers to use their networks and their bandwidth when I’m out of the country. I understand that there is a significant difference between the cost of transferring data over a cable connection and a 3G connection. But if you think that all of those issues justify a 4.7 million percent markup, you have got to be pulling my leg. Canada is a first-world country, with (presumably) first-world cell networks and internet access. AT&T can give me an unlimited smartphone data plan for $20/mth, but can’t negotiate a better rate than $60 for 4MB of data?!
Give me a fucking break.
When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me – it still sometimes happens – and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous – not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous and so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful…
The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.
Ann Druyan, talking about her late husband, Carl Sagan.