The announcement yesterday by T-Mobile US that its customers will be able to call, text, and use data in Mexico and Canada for no extra charge was targeted at travelers. Beginning next week, most T-Mobile customers will be able to call the babysitter from Vancouver or post photos from Cabo San Lucas to Instagram without having to worry about fees for international calling or data use.
Travelers will enjoy T-Mobile’s new feature, but those who stand to benefit most from the Bellevue company’s move are those in a more permanent situation: Mexican immigrants.
An estimated 11.6 million Mexican immigrants live in the U.S., and another 5.9 million are here without documentation. These immigrants, both with and without authorization, likely have family members in Mexico that they either don’t call as frequently as they’d like or have been racking up exorbitant international dialing fees. Documented immigrants who are free to travel across the border are now free to use their phones across the border, too.
“Making a call or using your phone in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. is now just like going out of state,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a video announcing the plan. “Go to New York to Canada, or California to Mexico. It’s just like going from Idaho to Texas or Georgia to Kentucky.”
Legere, though seemingly unaware that Idaho does not border Texas, nor does Georgia border Kentucky, touches on socioeconomics that mirror the fluidity of the U.S. population. The savings from this T-Mobile plan likely matter more for immigrants calling family than tourists visiting Playa Del Carmen. Mexican immigrants have a median household income of around $34,000, far lower than white Americans’ $58,270 median income.
T-Mobile’s announcement comes amid a time when its larger competitors are trying to gain a foothold in Mexico. In the last year, AT&T purchased two Mexican telecommunications companies for a total of $4.4 billion and plans to spend another $3 billion to expand coverage to 100 million Mexicans.
AT&T’s push for subscribers, though, doesn’t make cross-border communication any easier or cheaper. The company’s base international phone plan, which costs $30, gives subscribers 120 megabytes of data usage and unlimited texting; phone calls cost a dollar a minute. So while AT&T may be adding subscribers in Mexico, T-Mobile is making international communication more affordable.
Mexican immigrants aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit, of course. According to American Community Survey estimates, there are about 850,000 people born in Canada residing in the U.S.