At most, 1/1000th of a penny.
For cell phone users paying a la carte, the retail price of transmitted data is around $1 a megabyte. At that rate, the price of a 10-character message ought to be about 1/1,000 of a cent. Rounded to the nearest cent: free.
Even the 1/1,000-cent figure arguably overstates the true cost of a text. Unlike e-mail, Internet, and voice data, text messages are piggy-backed onto the cellular network. They occupy otherwise unused space in a control channel used for network maintenance. So as far as text messages are concerned, the cell phone companies are like the mean clique in high school who sold elevator passes (and there’s no elevator.)
Given that consumers have little sense of what texts ought to cost, they take their cues from the phone companies. The text message business plan has been a huge success. From 2005 to 2008, the price American carriers charged for text messages doubled, from about 10 cents to 20 cents. In that time, the volume of text messages grew about tenfold.
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