reply to openbox9
Re: There's a need but at what cost? I don't expect them to bear the costs. Given the costs in the article, the fees seem too high. A long time ago before marriage and kids, I went from apartment to apartment. I always got whacked for $50 per line to establish service. That's excessive. If they have to roll a truck I understand the cost but entering a few lines of data into a provisioning system and then charging $50 is ridiculous. Eventually around year 2000 I think they reduced the fee to $35. I always found that telling since $50 was worth a lot more in 1985 than $35 in year 2000 but suddenly service prices went down, long distance fell through the floor and it no longer cost $50 to establish a new telephone line.
Likewise I think the fees they are charging law enforcement agencies is excessive. It's another one of those because they can and furthermore, most government bodies aren't too careful with how they spend tax-payer dollars.
It's partly "because they can", but more so that conducting these activities has real costs. One of the big reasons several ISPs are pushing back on doing the dirty work for copyright holders. If anything, one could hope that with a cost to obtain this info, law enforcement agencies might be deterred from willy-nilly requesting it. In the grand scheme of things, a few hundred dollars each month per person being investigated isn't that much at all.
From the Forbes article:
All four telecom firms also offer so-called tower dumps that allow police to see the numbers of every user accessing a certain cell tower over a certain time at an hourly rate. AT&T charges $75 per tower per hour, with a minimum of two hours. Verizon charges between $30 and $60 per hour for each cell tower. T-Mobile demands $150 per cell tower per hour, and Sprint charges $50 per tower, seemingly without an hourly rate.
For location data, the carrier firms offer automated tools that let police track suspects in real time. Sprint charges $30 per month per target to use its L-Site program for location tracking. AT&Ts E911 tool costs $100 to activate and then $25 a day. T-Mobile charges a much pricier $100 per day.
When service fees have extreme variance (example: $30/month to $100/day), it's hard to believe they are based on a realistic cost model. If they are, I would expect them to be considerably more consistent. Since they aren't, it leads me to believe they are pulling prices from you know where and charging whatever they want.
Excessive profit is not congruent with free enterprise/capitalism so this has nothing to do with an organization's "right" to charge whatever it wants. Arguably, law enforcement experiences monopolistic behavior with no recourse since they must deal with the target's carrier and pay whatever they demand. They cannot ask Sprint to provide data on a T-Mobile customer thereby creating a competitive situation.
I was impressed that the article mentioned Verizon did not charge a fee for emergencies. This is definitely an example of them being a good corporate citizen. However, I would not fault them if they did charge a reasonable fee, even in an emergency.
Once again, costs exist. I'm not suggesting that the carriers might not be milking the requests for more. As for your comparison, the difference in rates may have to do with the backend management systems. Without knowing the details and processes involved, we're all guessing about the fairness of these prices.