Last week, in The Times and on my blog, I've been ranting about one particularly blatant money-grab by U.S. 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.
* Sprint: "[Phone number] is not available right now. Please leave a detailed message after the tone. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press pound for more options."
* Verizon: "At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options. To leave a callback number, press 5. (Beep)"
* AT&T: "To page this person, press five now. At the tone, please record your message. When you are finished, you may hang up, or press one for more options."
* T-Mobile: "Record your message after the tone. To send a numeric page, press five. When you are finished recording, hang up, or for delivery options, press pound."
(You hear a similar message when you call in to hear your own messages. "You. Have. 15. Messages. To listen to your messages, press 1." WHY ELSE WOULD I BE CALLING?)
I, the voicemailbox owner, cannot turn off this additional greeting message. You, the caller, can bypass it, but only if you know the secret keypress--and it's different for each carrier. So you'd have to know which cellphone carrier I use, and that of every person you'll ever call; in other words, this trick is no solution.
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.
In 2007, I spoke at an international cellular conference in Italy. The big buzzword was ARPU--Average Revenue Per User. The seminars all had titles like, "Maximizing ARPU In a Digital Age." And yes, several attendees (cell executives) admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU.
Right now, the carriers continue to enjoy their billion-dollar scam only because we're not organized enough to do anything about it. But it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to sit there, waiting to leave your message, listening to a speech recorded by a third-grade teacher on Ambien.
Let's push back, and hard. We want those time-wasting, money-leaking messages eliminated, or at least made optional.
I asked my Twitter followers for help coming up with a war cry, a slogan, to identify this campaign. They came up with some good ones:
"Where's the Beep?"
"Let it Beep"
"We Know. Let's Go."
"Lose the Wait"
"My Voicemail, My Recording"
"Hell, no, we won't hold!"
My favorite, though, is the one that sounds like a call to action: "Take Back the Beep."
And here's how we're going to do it.
We're going to descend, en masse, on our carriers. Send them a complaint, politely but firmly. Together, we'll send them a LOT of complaints.
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 Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations: MS8460@att.com.
* Sprint: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/9CmrZ
* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u
Three of the four carriers are just directing us to their general Web forums. Smells like a cop-out, I know. (As for AT&T: Props to the guy for letting me publish his e-mail address! Hope he knows what he's in for!)
Yet all four carriers promise that they'll read and consider our posts. And we have two things going for us.
First, I have a feeling that the volume of complaints will be too big for them to ignore. To that end, I hope you'll pass these instructions along, blog them, Twitter them, and spread the word. (Gizmodo, Consumerist and others have agreed to help out.) And I hope you'll take the time to complain yourself. Do it now, before you forget.
Second, we'll all be watching. I'll be reporting on the carriers' responses. If they ignore us, we'll shame them. If they respond, we'll celebrate them.Either way, it's time to rise up. It's time for this crass, time-wasting money-grab to end for good.