Pogue vs. Cell Industry, pt. 2: “Take Back the Beep” Campaign (and some thoughts on Capitalism)


photo by user Kyle !!!11!!one!! on Flickr

photo by user Kyle !!!11!!one!! on Flickr

On Tuesday I wrote up an article on an exchange between New York Time’s Tech columnist David Pogue and Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon.  An article which Pogue himself commented on, by the way (I’m still waiting for McAdam to take notice of little ol’ me, even though I am a Verizon customer.  Hmm…)

Well, as is mentioned in Pogue’s comment on that article, he has started a new campaign on his blog to make our cell phone lives slightly easier (at least for three hours out of the year).

What is the object upon which he has called his followers to descend?  Those annoying 15-second long instructions at the beginning of either leaving or checking a voicemail on your phone.  Apparently, Pogue has been told point-blank by various phone company reps that these instructions really are to make us use our minutes.  And it works.  According to Pogue’s calculations, we spend three hours a year listening to those messages and the cell companies rake in about $670 million a year (and that’s just Verizon! By the way, those calculations are based on leaving and checking voicemails twice a day, every weekday, for a year).

To accomplish this, Pogue has contacted the cell companies and has received from them info on where we, their customers, can complain about this.  Pogue writes:

“Let’s push back, and hard. We want those time-wasting, money-leaking messages eliminated, or at least made optional. . . 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.”

Of course, the companies just gave their general web complaint areas (though the AT&T guy gave his own email address.  Impressive.), and of course they’re probably a pain to navigate.  For example, I tried to do it on the Verizon site, but being on a family plan with my parents, I don’t have all the very specific information they demand of you from your monthly statement before you can even leave a comment.

I don’t know about the other sites, but I hope this actually works.  Honestly, not so much because this specific complaint ruins my life so much.  Rather (if I may wax philosophical for a moment), I think Western Capitalism is coming of an age where power players have emerged such that they have become disconnected from the consumers that strengthen them.  I have just recently become hyper-aware of the fact that we as Americans have lost control of the very institutions we are supposedly responsible for.  CEO’s are supposed to rely on the customers.  Food companies are supposed to be dependent upon their consumers.  Politicians are technically our employees and should be terrified of not producing the results we want.

But no, we sheep of the “American dream” have relinquished the control of these institutions preferring ignorance, entertainment, and comfort as our opiates.  I would love this campaign to work so I might still have hope that people, policies, and institutions can really change- that the status quo is not fixed.  I pray that the steep terrain of the proverbial slippery slope might tip.

So won’t you help us show CEO’s that they are finite- dependent upon us, the customers, for all that they enjoy in their posts of power and influence?  Might we find some bright light still left in a somewhat Capitalistic managed economy?

Or maybe we should all just become Distributists and all our problems will be solved.

Here’s the contact info provided by Pogue in his blog post today:

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

P.S. – as is mentioned in Pogue’s post, apparently Apple made AT&T take these messages off of the iPhone.  One more reason why Apple is what it is and has accomplished what it has.  I feel like they (and Starbucks.  Yeah, I said it.  What?) are the only large companies out there that get it.  They care and put people before profit.  And that’s profitable.  If only cell companies felt the same way.

NYT’s David Pogue Takes on Cell Industry


Pogue_hiUPDATE: more cell phone company d-baggage.  Apparently with the advent of the potentially-amazing-but-not-quite-yet Google Voice, most major cell providers have banned the various Google Voice apps that allow it to integrate into your phone’s operating system.  Ugh…

I really hope everyone out there knows who David Pogue is by now (his personal site can be found here). He is the main New York Times Tech Columnist, and he is great. His main job at the NYT is to make technology make sense to the everyday consumer, and he is really good at it. He’s so knowledgeable and yet is so funny and comes across as such an Everyman, you have a hard time believing he’s not your next door neighbor or at least your new best friend.

I follow him on Twitter and it is definitely one of my favorite feeds. He recently finished writing a book over Twitter where every night he would have some sort of game that his followers would play along with and the best responses ended up in the book. It was great. He has a very loyal Twitter fan base. He regularly crashes websites by posting links to interesting videos or articles, just to have most of his 700,000+ followers go to these sites all at once and crashing the servers.

Anyway, Pogue has recently drawn some attention for a recent article he wrote about his “Everyman” frustrations with the cell phone industry. After a brief defense of the industry over phone exclusivity contracts (ala AT&T and the iPhone) where he explains why this is an unreasonable frustration to have with them, he outlines six legitimate frustrations to have with the cell industry. The gripes are as follows (but I still really encourage you to actually read the article. He’s a great writer.):

  1. Unreasonable text-messaging fees
  2. Double-billing (where you get billed for sending and receiving a call)
  3. Unfair Phone Subsidies Practices (you spend the first half of your contract paying off your phone, but still keep paying the same price even after your phone’s paid off)
  4. Crazy International Phone Call Rates
  5. Way Too-Long Voicemail Instructions Just To Waste Your Minutes
  6. Miscellaneous (dead spots, data caps, customer service, etc.)

(You’ll see why I wrote that outline out here soon) That was last Wednesday, July 22nd. Apparently that article put into words the frustrations of many, many Americans, awakening a small public relations disaster for cell phone companies. I know I felt really good after reading it.

So how did the industry respond? Did they rush together to serve the interests of their customers? Did they begin more research to see if in fact a huge percentage of their clients felt similarly? No. Instead, two days later, on July 24th, Lowell C. McAdam, CEO of Verizon, sent an open letter to the publisher of the New York Times (I have no idea why he didn’t just send it to Pogue) accusing the New York Times of publishing “myths” and “highly misleading charges at wireless companies”. He then goes on to carefully rebut these “myths” and “charges” leveled against his industry by Pogue’s article. Now, I would love everyone to look back up and reacquaint yourselves with Pogue’s outline of complaints.

Done? Good. Now here are McAdam’s counterpoints to Pogue, presented in Myth/Fact fashion:

  • Myth 1: American’s pay less than Europeans; Truth: they pay an average of ten cents per minute less (as long as you don’t factor in international calls, text messages, data rates, and overage charges).
  • Myth 2: The cell phone industry isn’t competitive; Fact: Al Gore at some point said they were very competitive (seriously, that’s what the letter says)
  • Myth 3: Bad customer service; Fact: 84% of customers are satisfied (really? I’m “satisfied” with a lot of things, but I’d much rather be “pleased”. We kind of have to be satisfied with what we got anyway)
  • Myth 4: Wireless companies don’t look out for the rural guy; Fact: Verizon looks out for them.

Wow. Eat it, Pogue. McAdam really took you to task. How did Pogue respond to such an “onslaught” (are you catching the sarcasm yet)? With this tweet and this brief article. Personally, I think it’s pretty bad when someone attacks you, you attack back, and that person proceeds to promote your attack as amusement for his supporters. Shortly afterward, Pogue continued to tweeting about other things, but several hours later decided he was going to start a campaign to get rid of the long voicemail instructions, so he asked his followers for potential “war-cry” slogans.

I really hope this causes some real discourse and perhaps even change in how cell companies treat their customers, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy playing along with Pogue as he milks this exchange for all of the entertainment it’s worth. Good for him.

So, read his stuff, buy his book, follow his Twitter, watch his song and lecture below from December on 2009 cell phone trends, and enjoy the ride.