Cell Phone Users Of The World Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Ringtones!

David Pogue of the NYT has a campaign:

Over the past week, in The New York Times and on my blog, I’ve been ranting about one particularly blatant money-grab by American cellphone carriers: the mandatory 15-second voicemail instructions.

Suppose you call my cell to leave me a message. First you hear my own voice: “Hi, it’s David Pogue. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you”–and THEN you hear a 15-second canned carrier message.

[…] These messages are outrageous for two reasons. First, they waste your time. Good heavens: it’s 2009. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO AT THE BEEP.

Do we really need to be told to hang up when we’re finished!? Would anyone, ever, want to “send a numeric page?” Who still carries a pager, for heaven’s sake? Or what about “leave a callback number?” We can SEE the callback number right on our phones!

Second, we’re PAYING for these messages. These little 15-second waits add up–bigtime. If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year. That’s your money. And your time: three hours of your time a year, just sitting there listening to the same message over and over again every year.

If enough of us make our unhappiness known, I’ll bet they’ll change.

I’ve told each of the four major carriers that they’ll be hearing from us. They’ve told us where to send the messages:

* Verizon: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/FJncH.

* AT&T: Send e-mail to: customerissues@attnews.us.

* Sprint: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/9CmrZ

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u.

Pogue Part II:

On Thursday, on this blog, in my e-mail column and on Twitter, I launched “Take Back the Beep,” a national campaign to restore your time and money from the country’s cellular carriers. I’m referring, of course, to the obnoxious, drawn-out, 15-second instructions that Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile tack on to your own voicemail greeting. You know: “To page this person, press 5. When you have finished recording, you may hang up. To leave a callback number, press 1,” etc.

The response has been amazing. Gizmodo, Engadget, Consumerist, Technologizer and other blogs joined me in the cause. Radio stations called for interviews. And above all, readers responded, flooding the carriers with such a volume of complaints, three out of the four wound up setting up special channels to accommodate it all.

Kevin Drum:

Apparently Pogue’s campaign to end this ripoff, which he calls “Take Back the Beep,” is already having an effect.  It just goes to show that the mainstream media isn’t dead yet.  Now if only we can get Lou Dobbs hot and bothered about this.

Ezra Klein:

I’ve long wondered about those 15-second instructional messages you get every time you try and leave a cellphone user a message. I know I need to wait for a beep. I also know I should unwrap food from its packaging before eating it and that the magic box in my living room doesn’t imprison very tiny people for my viewing enjoyment. So what’s with the monotone lady telling me how to use voice mail?

Paul Boutin at Venture Beat:

These messages, as anyone who follows the mobile industry knows, are there to run up the number of minutes used by customers who call in to leave or check messages, wasting their lives and running up their phone bills 15 seconds at a time. It’s the same reason voicemail systems are rigged to force you to listen to one message after another, running up more minutes, rather than skipping to the one you want.

In his Take Back the Beep campaign, Pogue has reported, for example, that T-Mobile deleted hundreds of posts from its online customer forums and then blocked posts containing the word “beep.”

Andrew Nusca at ZDNet:


Joseph Lawler at American Spectator:

Good for him. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t, but in that case Pogue’s readers will at least know which services allow you to get rid of the message (iPhone owners don’t have to deal with it). Perhaps in time people will get fed up enough to start switching services, in which case the competing carriers will be forced to rethink the terrible mandatory messages.

It’s interesting that the first thing that occured to Pogue, and also to Mark Thoma, a liberal economist on whose blog I found the story, was not to write that the government should make a regulation preventing mandatory messages. It would be a simple enough regulation, after all.

Why are people like Mark Thoma comfortable letting the market take care of problems like mandatory voicemail instructions, but not things like confusing mortgages? What is the difference between cell phones and personal finance that consumers can take care of themselves on one but not the other?

Harry McCracken


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