“My basic human right to call people has been violated”

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Here’s an interesting dilemma from Nathanael Hergert: Do you have a right to a phone call?

I’m not talking about your right to make a call after you’ve been arrested. Hergert isn’t in any trouble with the law. I’m talking about a right to use your phone without being overcharged.

Is there such a right?

Technically, yes. The federal government’s Lifeline program subsidizes phone service for low-income taxpayers.

Hergert has a cell phone from Verizon, and he’s looking for a particular kind of subsidy.

“My basic human right to call people has been violated,” he explains.

How so? Maybe I should just let him explain. Here’s the letter he wrote to Verizon’s CEO:

Currently, most telecom companies have unlimited phone and texting plans to go with a limited data plan such as 5 GB, 10 GB, etc.

I understand and respect the fact why you want to limit the data usage. You don’t want anyone to be using your phone network as a home network, thus clogging the Internet channels from your data usage, especially those who abuse it.

I am hard of hearing. I use video relay service through video phone, which enables deaf and hard of hearing individuals to use a sign language interpreter to relay calls in sign language. This is a great way for equal access for communication.

I use it at home, I use it on the road, at work. Everywhere.

But I have an issue with the limitation of the data plan.

Because the video relay service uses data, if I’m on the road, I could be on a conversation for one hour. That would be equivalent to about 180 MB. On average per month, I call about 10 hours. 1.8 GB is used up for the whole month.

What if disaster strikes and I have to call more than 30 hours in one month on the road?

I’m now past the 5 GB limit. All on calling alone. No other data usage. You are willing to charge me $15 per extra GB. It’s not free. Whereas, you are giving hearing people (with no problems using regular phone) free access to calling other people. Unlimited.

I am limited, and you charge me for data usage. I think it’s not fair at all. I’ve tried calling your national disability access center. They are worthless when it comes to corporate attention to this matter.

I would like access to unlimited data for me and my wife until you come up with a more permanent solution.

Well, this is interesting.

I’ve reviewed his email – to which Verizon hasn’t responded — a few times. I think Hergert is both right and wrong.

If there’s a real “disaster,” then there are no assurances the Verizon towers will still be up, so that may or may not be a realistic scenario. Also, unless his wife is hearing-impaired, why would Verizon offer him “free” data? If they did, then shouldn’t they also extend “free” data to his friends and family?

But Hergert has a point. The system is rigged to favor users who can hear, and it puts people who can’t hear at a disadvantage. But how much of a disadvantage?

There are a number of texting apps and services that would let someone like Hergert send messages in real time without affecting his data.

I think the question he means to ask is: Should his disability compel Verizon to offer an unlimited plan for same price he currently pays?

I don’t know.

As I review this problem, I’m surprised it’s a problem at all. I mean, it’s 2016. Why haven’t wireless carriers figured out how to give us the data we need without charging us $15 per GB? That’s (ahem) information superhighway robbery.

I believe the technology exists to offer always-on, high-speed connections for a low rate. Are wireless carriers more focused on making money on their legacy systems than figuring out a problem that all of us share with Hergert?

I think we all know the answer. It may be more obvious than the answer to Hergert, actually. Verizon is probably discriminating against him, but I’m a consumer advocate, not a disability lawyer.

Should Verizon offer Nathanael Hergert an unlimited data program for the same price he's paying for his current service?

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