As the FAA begins to ease the restrictions of using gadgets on flights, we’re going to see more silly things. For example, Southwest Airlines recently announced a new in-flight data option for $2/day that allows you unlimited access to iMessage. iMessage is the SMS/IM solution baked into the latest iPhones and iPads. I get what Southwest is trying to do, and I’m inclined to believe they don’t have ulterior motives, but quite frankly, this is scary for consumers, and should be addressed immediately.
Why is this scary?
I’ve written about this before, when Verizon tried to do something similar. It starts easy – you may not want to pay $10-20 to have full-on WiFi on your flight, especially if you’re on your phone or tablet. $2/day is MUCH more budget-friendly, and iMessage is likely what most people will use the access for anyways. However, here’s where it gets slippery:
If Southwest Airlines can carve out access for a specific app on your phone, what’s to stop them from charging you for access through a specific app on your phone? Today it’s $2 for iMessage, tomorrow it’s $4 for Candy Crush Saga, $3 for Facebook, $5 for Instagram, and round and round we go.
Once you allow and get comfortable with the idea of paying for your Internet access through an ala carte menu setup, the sky’s the limit for Internet providers. Next, these Internet providers will be going to the app developers for extra $$. I can hear the pitch now: “If you’ll put some Southwest Airlines ad in your app, we’ll let users access your app for $1 less than other apps, and we’ll split the revenue with you”. The app developers who value the free and open Internet and want to make a stand for consumers will end up being suffocated out because access to their app costs users $10 instead of $5 for the competition.
This gets really ugly really quickly, and frankly, consumers shouldn’t stand for it.