This Wikipedia founder's new venture? A cellphone carrier that puts your bill to good use.

Most people probably wouldn't peg their cellphone carrier as being particularly ethical.

Let's start with the fact that their plans and pricing are really confusing ... on purpose.


What is a "convenience fee"? We feel you, bearded Christian Bale.

Not to mention, the horrendous customer service at telecommunication companies is practically legendary. Some of these retailers reportedly don't even treat their own employees well.

So, even though we use our cellphones every day and pay a pretty substantial price for that convenience, it's not always a transaction we feel good about.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says it doesn't have to be that way.

Jimmy Wales is chairman of The People's Operator, a new(ish) mobile carrier that gives 10% of your bill to a charity of your choosing.

Jimmy Wales is best known for finding a better way to organize the world's knowledge. Now he's finding a better way to provide cell service. Photo by Nadine Rupp/Getty Images.

Here's how it's supposed to work.

You sign up for The People's Operator (TPO) the same way you would any other mobile company, except once you're enrolled (service is month-to-month) you get to pick a charity to receive 10% of your monthly bill.

TPO has been around in the U.K. for a while, and over there, you can pick any legitimate nonprofit organization. Customers in the states will pick from a list of TPO's current charity partners, including WWF, ASPCA, and the Children's Health Fund.

Not a bad deal for a cost you'd have anyway, but TPO does want something in return. They'll give your money to charity instead of buying ads if you agree to tell your friends to switch to their service.

TPO even hosts an ambitious, if a little redundant, social networking platform to rally support around specific causes.

OK, so it looks suspiciously like Facebook, with a sort of newsfeed-looking main page and trending topics on the side. But what it lacks in novelty it makes up for in purpose.

In a letter on TPO's website from Jimmy Wales himself, he asks users to "Pledge to yourself to move a big part of your digital life here. Make it a real living and breathing community force for good."

Here's the main page of TPO's social networking site. Image from TPO.com

The main draw here, then, is the "causes" pages, where you can interact directly with issues you care about and easily donate money.

Image from TPO.com

The most important question remains, though: Is TPO actually viable as a cellphone carrier?

Because what good is donating a portion of your bill if you don't get a working cellphone in return?

This is what cellphoning should look like. GIF from "Saved by the Bell."

The People's Operator uses Sprint's network, so coverage should be as strong as you're used to. (Smaller carriers like TPO, also known as mobile virtual network operators, essentially sell customers access to the big networks, but with their own brand, pricing, customer support, and marketing.)

TPO's prices also compare favorably to competitors like Straight Talk and Page Plus Wireless, though it's nearly impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison across carriers. (Remember the whole thing about these plans being purposefully confusing?)

Still, TPO is so new to the U.S. that it's tough to say for sure if the service is all it's cracked up to be.

Whether TPO will really change the cell service game remains to be seen. But kudos to them for trying to do some good in a yucky industry.

On top of the monthly bill proceeds, The People's Operator has also pledged to give 25% of its profits to charity. Unfortunately, TPO has yet to become profitable.

In a lot of ways, The People's Operator still feels a lot like a wobbly-legged start-up with good intentions. To that end, the venture will only be a success in the U.S. if it can attract a big enough customer base to actually make a difference.

Let's hope The People's Operator stays afloat and finally gives us a cellphone carrier worth rooting for.

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