Ina Fried

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Republic Wireless Decides to Put the Unlimited Back in Unlimited

Upstart phone-service provider Republic Wireless earned praise for its plans to offer $19-a-month unlimited calling. But the carrier also got dinged hard for saying that those who used its unlimited cellular plan too heavily might get booted off the service.

Republic’s thesis is that with Wi-Fi networks so plentiful, most people only occasionally need cellular networks, and can do most of their calling, texting and surfing over Wi-Fi. The carrier’s initial service plan promised unlimited calling and data use, but said that it was encouraging customers to use Wi-Fi for most of their needs and that those who exceeded certain usage could find themselves looking elsewhere for service.

Republic still wants its users to rely on Wi-Fi, but it is no longer threatening to cut them off if they use cellular networks too much.

“From today, republic wireless is all-in,” the company said in a blog post last week. “We’re eliminating all usage thresholds, and with them the concern some of you have expressed about losing your membership for maintaining too large a cellular footprint.”

Even with the move, Republic Wireless still probably isn’t for everyone. It offers a single basic Android phone, and users must pay for that phone upfront. The phone uses custom software on top of Android to route things over Wi-Fi whenever possible, and uses Sprint’s 3G network when cellular service is needed.

Republic also notes that the service remains in beta, promising that the service will remain unlimited during the beta phase.

“Everyone who has purchased or purchases a phone during beta will be guaranteed the opportunity to enjoy unlimited service, without fear of cancellation, until the end of beta,” Republic said. “We won’t end beta until we either achieve economic sustainability or become convinced that doing so is impossible. In the event that we end beta with a decision to abandon or change our unlimited offering, we’ll give you the option of canceling for a full refund for your device at that time.”

Republic will keep — at least for now — a tool that shows users how much of their data and voice use is on Wi-Fi versus cellular, relative to how others are using their devices. It also plans to keep a clause that could remove users for “unacceptable use” beyond what is appropriate for a personal smartphone, though it says it may revise its language on that term, as well.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work