Take Back the Beep Campaign

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Last updated on July 23, 2019 Comments: 4

If you were to start adding a comment to this blog post, but we first made you wait fifteen seconds after pressing the “comment” button to make you hear some extraneous instructions, you’d be terribly frustrated. Now imagine if every Web site had the same problem, and imagine further that you were being charged for every second of time you spend online.

That’s basically the problem (well, one of the problems) with America’s big mobile phone companies. Anytime you want to leave a message for, say, a Verizon customer, you hear this:

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.

We’ve heard these messages so much that we could all do bang-on impressions of them. For the most part, I usually just roll my eyes and my sense of the phone company’s collective intelligence goes down one more notch.

But David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, sees a more serious problem: mobile phone carriers are using this extra-fifteen-seconds-per-call in a disgusting attempt to get more money from each of us. These seconds count towards our airtime usage. If you’re paying as you go, you see the problem right away. And even if you have a monthly plan, just four messages a month means a minute that you shouldn’t be using up.

But Mr. Pogue has an idea for fixing this (not to mention shocking data on how big the problem is). He’s started the “Take Back the Beep” campaign, wherein you and I send e-mails to the four biggest mobile phone companies, politely demanding that they quit this at-least annoying and at-worst money-grabbing activity. From the article:

cell executives admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU (Average Revenue per User)

If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year.

I’m heartened by stories that start out as a single complaint on Twitter, and end up getting a huge corporation’s attention, who is then obligated to rectify the matter. This should be even bigger than that. I took the time to send my complaint to AT&T. Won’t you?

Maybe if this is successful, we can then get mobile phone operators to admit that what we’re doing is just making phone calls, like we always used to do, and therefore, if you are the recipient of the call, you shouldn’t pay for it.

Take Back the Beep Campaign, David Pogue, The New York Times, July 30, 2009

Article comments

Anonymous says:

IIRC, most carriers round usage up to the nearest minute. If the message is truly 15 seconds, and the average length of the seconds portion of the call is uniformly distributed, the then the odds of the message pushing you into the next minute are only 1/4. I’d like to see real data on the issue to actually quantify the whole thing.

Anonymous says:

@Ken M: I was going to suggest that, too, but I don’t think it works with every company. I had to leave a voice message for one of my sister’s friends, and # not only doesn’t work, it wastes more time by adding a one-second pause in the message before continuing.

Anonymous says:

It’s * that skips the message and goes straight to the beep. I found it out last weekend while trying to recover my voicemail from another phone, and managed to send myself an empty voicemail.

Anonymous says:

I think if you press pound (#) during that recording it skips the message.