You have a lot of choices for cell phone carriers and plans today. You can choose the plan that saves you the most money, has the best coverage, fastest or largest data plans...or one that is dedicated to giving back to society. Is there really a way to combine social responsibility and charitable giving with cell phone service?
That's the emphasis of The People's Operator (TPO), a network headed by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. TPO automatically donates 10% of your bill to a charity of your choice in addition to donating 25% of its profits to charity on an annual basis.
TPO has been operating in the United Kingdom since November 2012 and recently announced the launch of a similar service in the US. In the US market, TPO will operate through a lease over the Sprint network as a mobile virtual network operator (MNVO). Coverage should be the same as that of the Sprint 4G LTE network.
TPO's pricing scheme is reasonable, with several different tiers based on minutes, text, and data capability. You can either choose pay-as-you-go or pay-monthly programs. The prepaid tiers range from the "Goodness-to-Go-Low" plan with 250 minutes of talk, 250 texts and no data for $9 to $89 for the "Goodness-to-Go-Bananas" plan with unlimited talk and text and 11GB of data. Monthly plans all include unlimited talk and text and range from $32 per month for 2GB of data to 11GB per month for $89.
Eschewing traditional advertising, TPO's business model is to rely more on word-of-mouth, social networks, and free publicity — viral advertising, so to speak. Reduced advertising expenses allow TPO to charge comparable rates while meeting charitable goals.
To complement the cell phone service, TPO is also launching TPO.com, an online community and social network. The site, now in beta stage, is an open platform free of sponsored ads. Users are able to raise money for any cause and to encourage similar charitable efforts in others. Charities are not charged for the use of the platform, as other giving platforms tend to do. The service is not limited to TPO customers.
To direct the portion of your bill to a charity, you can choose from a menu of approved causes or you can nominate a different cause to be vetted by TPO for inclusion. Presumably, there are similar limitations on what constitutes a good cause for the fundraising rules on TPO.com.
As you compare prices, consider the status of your phone and your contract. The prices above are for SIM-card services, assuming that you have an unlocked phone that is free and clear to switch. The major carriers may have the device locked over a certain period of time or have the cost of the phone incorporated into your bill.
TPO offers devices that can be either purchased or leased for use along with the program. Devices from most major manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, etc.) are available, or you can bring your own externally purchased phone as long as it is unlocked.
TPO certainly fills a niche within the US market as a socially responsible cell phone service provider. However, ultimately its success or failure depends on the blend of cost, ease-of-use, coverage area and reliability within that area. Do the basics well, and a devoted customer base should follow. Fail to do the basics, and the charitable aspect alone will not be enough to keep TPO in business. We wish them good luck in their efforts.