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Down with upgrade fees

Carriers shouldn't charge customers for remaining loyal. But for customers who pay an upgrade fee even when they sign a new contract, that's exactly that happens.

In the cell phone world, upgrade fees are the root of all evil.

Well, maybe not all evil, but they're responsible for a big portion of it. Apparently, though, carriers don't agree.

Consider that on Friday, AT&T confirmed that it was doubling its upgrade fee from $18 to $36. So now, any AT&T customer who decides to upgrade to a new phone will have to pay a decent chunk of change for the "privilege."

True, AT&T isn't the only carrier to do so and it doesn't charge more than Sprint, but the company's announcement means that my earlier sentiments over upgrade fees bear repeating.

The worst thing about them is that customers who've served out a contract and are willing to sign a new one are being charged for remaining loyal to a carrier. They are being charged for buying a new phone, even when they're adding a plan that includes enhanced services like data and messaging. So even though a carrier now has that customer locked in for two more years at a higher monthly rate and with a higher-class device, that isn't enough.

Of course, carriers have their reasons. As AT&T told Phonescoop, today's cell phones "are more sophisticated than ever before." And as a result, "the costs associated with upgrading to a new device have increased and is reflected in our new upgrade fee."

I won't argue that running a cellular network is expensive and that expanding cellular coverage, activating 4G markets, and adding new services makes it more expensive every year. What's more, I won't dispute that the more features a smartphone has, the more money it will cost a carrier up front.

Absolutely, some costs will have to trickle down to consumers. An upgrade fee, however, is not the way to do it. You're singling out the customers who want to sign new contracts instead of jumping ship. That's unfair.

I can accept early-termination fees and reasonable overage and roaming charges. These practices apply to specific scenarios when a customer is using a service or breaking contract after buying a phone at a deep discount. With an upgrade fee, however, a customer just wants a new phone. And considering how carriers constantly are pushing the newest and greatest devices, who can blame them?