So I made the mistake of dropping my smartphone. From a height of like, two feet off the ground. And of course, like a professional soccer player who has been trained to make a dramatic fall and fake an injury at the slightest hint of improper contact, the screen died.

Apparently I lack cellphone insurance (Verizon's fault, long story, and I'm like, another 6 months away from an "upgrade"), and these things are fucking expensive. So I get a quote on the contract cancellation price and decide to go internet shopping.

Apparently there are all these exciting companies selling supposedly cheaper service than Verizon. Or so it seems, but then they each have their own clusterfuck loopholes.

Apparently, despite the fact that there might be dozens of cell service companies, in reality there are only four main networks in the US - everyone else just pays to use one of the existing networks. So it's Verizon, AT&T (hereinafter ATT because it's too fucking late to find the ampersand key every time), Sprint, and T-Mobile.

So of course, most of the cool looking carriers with cheap prices are basically using the Sprint or T-Mobile networks. If you are not in a major city, those networks suck. I am not in a major city. (Local suckitude is confirmed by anecdotes.) That takes away most of my options.

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And anyway, most of the "pay as you go" networks with low prices end up requiring you to purchase a phone from them (which is not inherently problematic), but that phone is then locked to the carrier. Wtf, pay as you go scheme? What's the point if I'm virtually locked in anyway? You're not really that much cheaper, if you account for the fact that the Verizon prices were masking a cell phone subsidy.

ATT itself is even more expensive than Verizon. The companies on the ATT network are generally ridiculous (high prices, phone lock ins, websites that look like they're built by fifth graders, etc). One exception seems to be AioWireless, ATT's new pay as you go arm. Cheap-er, good network, can use your own phone - seems fine. But they don't allow tethering (by which you use your cellphone to provide internet access to another device - in my case, my laptop). I tether. A lot. And Verizon, for whatever shit it had wrong with it, was "cool" with tethering. (And by "cool", I mean got raked over the coals by the FCC over it, and then just gave up and let everyone do what they wanted with it.)

So, AioWireless. While they're a new company, ATT itself has a reputation for cracking down on tethering. I can buy separate laptop data, but at that point I'm adding another 60-80% to my cellphone plan - I might as well just stick with Verizon. (But only through ATT, because AioWireless will sell data for tablets, but not laptops. Really? Also, ATT - If I'm paying for the goddamn data already, why does it matter if I'm using it on my phone, or my laptop?)

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Oh, also, Verizon doesn't really have any of those network knockoff companies. They exist, but they're priced higher than Verizon (seriously guys?) or they're a company that manages to use all four major networks, and assign their customers based on region (but lean to Sprint/T-Mobile, because they're cheaper). As I'm in a region technically covered by Sprint/T-Mobile, I know where I'm going to end up.

So, this was part venting, and part Hivemind request: Does anyone have any rational suggestions, other than sticking with Verizon or starting my own cellphone company? Is anyone knowledgeable enough about tethering/ATT to know if that being an issue is something that can be worked around? (As an aside, I would be impressed if anyone read through this much rambly bullshit, so thanks for reading.)

tl;dr Fuck Verizon. Any lower priced alternatives using the Verizon/ATT network, where I could tether without paying through the nose?