Friday, July 31, 2009

Take Back the Beep!

Date: July 30, 2009 1:10:24 PM EDT
Subject: Personal Tech: The Mandatory 15-Second Voicemail Instructions

Personal Tech
The New York Times Thursday, July 30, 2009
- From the Desk of David Pogue -

The Mandatory 15-Second Voicemail Instructions

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.

* 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 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

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

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

* Verizon: Post a complaint here:

* AT&T: Send e-mail to Mark Siegel, executive director of
media relations:

* Sprint: Post a complaint here:

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here:

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.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at

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