It used to be that you would get a cell phone for a small token payment, and the cellular provider would then lock you into a 2 year contract, with an early termination fee of several hundred dollars for leaving. 

For the longest time, I simply maintained two lines that were activated a year apart, and this enabled me to get a new phone every year. That worked until the cell companies figured out that particular plan and began selling you the phone at a highly inflated price. They allow you to make payments, but the phones have about a 50% markup, and you are locked into cell service for as long as you continue to make payments.
The salesmen make all sorts of promises, and then have you sign a book length contract that even experienced attorneys cannot decipher. Then it turns out that the contract entirely favors the cell carrier. Isn’t this supposed to be what the consumer watchdog agencies of the government are for? Instead, business and government engage in a “one hand washes the other” arrangement where the little guy keeps getting screwed. This is why candidates like Sanders and Trump are so popular.
American cell phone companies are a ripoff. I was talking with people from other countries, and most countries pay less than $40 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data. Sure, you have to buy your own phone, but there are no early termination fees, no contracts, and you can switch carriers as you please.
These contracts are distorting the market, and there is no real choice or competition in the cell phone market. I have been a customer of every major cell phone company, most of them more than once. 
– I was a customer of Verizon in the late 90’s when they were still PrimeCo. Their service was so poor, and customer service was so rude, I left them and went to Nextel.
– I was a customer of Sprint back when they were Nextel. My relationship with that company ended with me filing a lawsuit when I cancelled service after my phone service failed during 2004’s Hurricane Charley. I wanted to cancel my service, they wanted to charge me a $600 early termination fee for cancelling a contract where they were the ones failing to keep up their end of the bargain. I paid the early termination fee to avoid the hit to my credit, and then sued them. I won the lawsuit, and was refunded my ETF plus a small amount for my time and trouble. 
– I went with AT&T for awhile, but their expensive service and the number of dropped calls was horrendous. I went back to Verizon in 2012
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