Note: I should be writing about the mess in Washington with the Continuing Resolution and the Debt Ceiling, since that’s what you readers keep asking about. Maybe later, but right now I have Washington Dysfunction Fatigue Syndrome

There I am, in 2013, and I need new cell service. It’s mostly a work thing: I need a newer Android device with Bluetooth 4.0, and that means a new contract of sorts. Which gets me to explaining the weird way the American wireless carrier system works.

In the rest of the world, you (mostly) have phones and carriers. The two are merrily separated. You buy your phone, you get your SIM card, you put your SIM into the phone, and you are good to go. When you don’t like your phone no more, you get a new one and put the old SIM into the new phone. If you find a cheaper carrier, you get the new SIM card and put it into your old phone. Simple.

In America, it doesn’t work that way. Your phone is typically tied to your carrier in a way much deeper than just by a SIM card. Your phone won’t work on any other carrier (except for roaming with the corresponding charges). Even after your contract expires, that’s typically true and your phone or other device will essentially be an electronic brick with no connectivity.

The first reason for this is purely technical: America was the first to adopt a wireless standard, and it failed to make the standard for the world. That’s been the case for TV, too, and the result is that most of the world uses PAL versus America’s SECAM. In the phone world, most of the world uses GSM, while America is split between the older standard, CDMA, and GSM itself.