|by Flemming Funch|
Grr, I really don't like monopolies that keep secrets from you in order to control you better. See this article about how car manufacturers keep the repair codes from their computers secret for anybody who isn't their own dealer. In case you don't know, all modern cars are controlled by an onboard computer, and very often the only way of diagnosing or repairing anything about the engine is by talking with the computer. But if you aren't allowed to know what its codes mean, you can't. The result is that around 10% of all car repairs can not be carried out, because the repair person doesn't have access to the computer codes, and he will have to tell the car owner to go away and go to a (much more expensive) dealer.
I was having a problem of a similar category in the last few days. I was trying to set up my cell phone to connect with my cell service carrier's Internet service. For the technically savvy reader - I'm trying to subscribe to the carrier's GPRS service, so I can then have my PDA talk with the phone in my pocket, using Bluetooth, so I can run always-on instant messenger programs and access webpages for monitoring servers, while being away from my computer.
For one thing, my cellular carrier, Cingular, is covering up what it is really offering behind a lot of marketing gobbledygook. The service that delivers GPRS (which is a standard protocol) is called "Wireless Internet Express", and is the upgrade to "Wireless Internet", which runs by a GSM Data connection (another standard). Their website doesn't say anything about that, so one has to go search on websites to find somebody who knows. I suppose they think their customers are stupid and don't need to know what they're getting.
Anyway, I quickly figured that part out. Worse is that, even though I can subscribe to the service, they're not going to tell me the access information. Most other cellular carriers just have a webpage that tell you the stuff you need to enter into your phone. But Cingular currently is the only GSM carrier here in California, so there's no impetus to be helpful. Their idea is that you have to buy their phones, which will come with the right codes already set, or they won't help you. And their codes are not anything one can guess. They're cryptic passwords and IP numbers.
So I have to spend a few hours on bulletin boards where technically minded Cingular customers have figured out the things I need to know, so I can type the proper settings into my phone. I got that far.
But then, the ridiculous thing is that one still needs the carrier to do certain things to turn on the service properly. So, there are bulletin boards full of advice on how to social-engineer the customer support representatives into giving you what you want. First of all you have to count on going through 5-7 different reps, in multiple calls, as many of them have no idea what you're talking about, or will tell you they don't sell that service, and it isn't possible. Then you get hold of somebody who does know what GPRS is. Then you need to persuade them to turn on the service even though you didn't buy the phone from them, and that usually involves pretending that you DO have one of their phones, and avoiding that they try to talk you through configuring it. Quite a circus.
And all of that just because a company refuses to make public the most basic configuration settings for their service.
I want a free market for information.
The traditional defense for that kind of behavior is probably that it is trade secrets, and these companies need to protect themselves from their competitors. And that they want to ensure that people get quality service.
And one might suggest that I could just go somewhere else if I don't like the terms. I can buy another car or get a cell phone elsewhere. But, no, I'm talking about the situations where there are no other choices. There are no car brands that freely share their computer codes. There are no GSM cell service carriers in California that publish their configuration information.
It is not a free market if there's only one choice, or if all the choices are the same. I want choices. And I will almost always choose a service provider that delivers a high quality product into your hands, that is honest about what it provides, and that voluntarily will tell you how to use it.
Dishonest companies will try to avoid telling you what you're buying and will try to maintain ownership and control over the product, even after you've bought it. And such behaviors are often necessary to cover up that their product or service isn't of very good quality.
I'm hopeful, however, that self-organizing communities on the Internet will more and more force companies to become more honest, or go out of business.
For anybody who might need the details of my cell phone discoveries, the best forum I found for that kind of information is: [link]
And, for the record, if there are any other Cingular cell phone customers who end up here, looking for how to connect their phones with GPRS, these are the settings you'll need:
IP Address: 22.214.171.124
Access Point: wap.cingular
user id: TCRESDC5RFDX@W3.MYCINGULAR.COM
Newer TCP/IP service:
IP Address: 126.96.36.199
Access Point: isp.cingular
user id: WIXDC001@W5.MYCINGULAR.COM