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Study: Chicagoans spend $300 million yearly on unused data for cellphones

Updated: July 20, 2013 6:36AM

Chicagoans pay nearly $300 million every year on unused data for their cellphones, according to a new report.

The study, from the Citizens Utilities Board and Texas-based wireless research firm Validas, said that Illinoisans each spend about $30 a year on unused data on wireless phones and almost $200 a year on unused data on smartphones, totaling more than $1 billion a year on data that no one uses.

“Illinoisans are spending more than the combined team salaries of the Cubs, White Sox and Cardinals,” said CUB executive director David Kolata.

The research is based on data collected through Validas’ free online tool at, which recommends better phone and data plans for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers after analyzing how much they use their phone and data service and how much they pay for it.

Kolata said thousands of actual phone bills from Illinois cellphone users, submitted to , were analyzed for the report.

The report states that the extra costs could be avoided if cellphone carriers offered more variety in data plans.

“While carriers took a step in the right direction when they began to offer plans that allowed multiple customers to share data,” states the report, “CUB calls on them to market more diverse options, from unlimited data to pay-for-what-you-use offers.”

Earlier this year, Validas launched its Wireless Waste Index, a website that shows how much money people around the world are spending on phone and data service they don’t use. According to the interactive website, North Americans spend over $77 billion annually on unused wireless plans.

Last year, Americans spent almost $45 billion on unused wireless plans. The website points out that, according to data from the Sodexo Foundation, this is almost four times the amount it would take to end hunger in the United States.

Jayne Wallace, a spokesperson for Sprint’s prepaid brands, said Sprint’s customers attach significant value to having unlimited data so they don’t have to worry about keeping track of what they’re using.

“People are data hungry,” Wallace said. “One of the reasons [unlimited] service evolved was because focus groups said they didn’t want to keep track of minutes every month. It’s the same with data.”

Wallace compared a pay-as-you-go service to people opting to use a car-sharing service instead of owning a car, or watching television on Hulu instead of getting cable.

“That has been a slowly growing trend, but we hear the opposite much more often,” she said.

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