New York Times columnist David Pogue launched a high-visibility effort last month to address just one of the many ways carriers shamelessly take money away from customers for nothing. Pogue noticed that most of the carriers have mandatory, 15-second voicemail instructions that are played after your own voice-mail message is played. For example, Verizon plays: "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."
Everyone already knows how to leave a voicemail message. Apple required AT&T to drop the requirement, for example, and somehow iPhone users are still communicating with each other.
Pogue estimates that Verizon, for example, takes $620 million a year away from customers for all the collective "minutes" required to listen to these messages. That's just one carrier, and just one example of how carriers make money by optimizing what they call Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).
Another example is SMS. On average, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile rates for sending SMS messages have doubled over the past three years. It costs carriers about one penny to send each SMS message, but some now charge customers about 20 cents. During this three-year period, the cost to carriers to deliver SMS messages most likely stayed the same or declined, but all four carriers doubled their rates. I believe the most likely reason for the price increases was to persuade customers to choose all-you-can-eat bundled deals, which tend to cost about $20 extra per month.
And yet another example is the charging of minutes for both parties for each call. In Europe, the caller pays minutes for the call, and the receiver pays nothing. In the U.S., both caller and callee pay.
Carriers employ experts to examine all the angles to figure out which combination of bundles and packages and pricing will extract the most money from each customer. It's not about charging more money for better service. It's about charging more money for the same service.