Texting Costs More than Sending a Message via Paper Mail

I wrote about the disgusting markup on text messages before, but here’s an even better illustration:

Google says 250 is considered the standard words per page measurement, and a sheet of paper weighs about 4.5 grams. The U.S. postal service allows your letters to weigh up to 1 ounce before charging you more, which is just over 28 grams. So you could send 6 sheets of paper, minus 1 for the envelope. If you write on both sides that gives you 2500 words (10 pages x 250 words). Our letter therefore gives us ~14Kbytes for 41 cents. To transfer an MP3 using this method, we would be looking at about $119.95. To transfer 2,560 MP3s, that comes out to only $307,072. We would also need to take into consideration the bulk rate, but for the sake of argument (and because I don’t feel like figuring it out), let’s leave it where it’s at. The cost would drop dramatically if we compressed the data onto, say a DVD and our cost would be something more like $1.20.


TCP/IP: $1
TCP/SMS: $61,356,851.20
TCP/USPS: $307,072.00 (Bits written out on paper)

So getting a SMS delivered is bit for bit 200x more expensive than getting a message hand delivered to your doorstep anywhere in the United States.

What exactly justifies making SMS messages sixty one million times more expensive than ISP data and 200x more expensive than TCP/USPS? How come technology, communication, and infrastructure is getting cheaper while the costs of SMS messages are increasing exponentially? My theory: SMS messages are transfered over air made of solid gold.

It’s an absurd monopoly- I can send gigabytes of pictures and even video over the air on my flat-rate data plan, and SMS for free via Google or a host of other online services, but if I want to get a tenth of a kilobyte to a buddy’s phone, I get charged a 30,000% markup.

I’m all for lasseiz-faire in most market sectors, but the barriers to entry and high infrastructure outlay for telecoms makes this more like a public utility than a standard market good, and we could do with some basic regulation.