Verizon Wireless' $90m Payback: A Good Start

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Verizon Wireless' $30 to $90m Payback: A Good Start
Artwork: Chip Taylor
Plans by Verizon Wireless to make good on years of bogus data charges by paying up to $90 million back to customers is a good start to making peace with ripped off customers. But why stop there Verizon? Verizon says the payouts will be spread among 15 million customers and the individual payouts will range from $2 and $6 - enough for a Happy Meal or two.

In other words, this is a good faith effort -- or one that might relieve scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission -- but it won't add up to much. If Verizon, and other carriers for that matter, really want to win the hearts and minds of their customers, here are four initiatives to consider:

Kill Bill Shock

The need for price tiers on voice, data and text is somewhat understandable; it gives customers a solid sense of what they'll pay every month, and it allows carriers to offer incentives for buying in bulk. But Verizon charges 45 cents for every minute beyond its basic 450-minute plan. That means if you use 900 minutes, you'd pay an extra $202.50 instead of the $20 premium on a 900-minute plan. How is that fair? The FCC is considering mandatory warnings when wireless customers hit their limits, but what we really need are reasonable overage charges.

No Double-Dipping

When AT&T stopped offering unlimited smartphone data plans, it also added the long-awaited tethering feature for iPhones. And as with its existing tethering plans, there's an extra charge. This would be reasonable if customers were given additional data to use when tethered, but no, all you're paying for is the same 2 GBs allotted for the phone itself. If customers buy a specific amount of data, it should be theirs to use however they please. Verizon is reportedly planning to end unlimited data plans as well, so hopefully it won't make the same mistake.

Down With Mandatory Plans

Unless you're hard of hearing, getting a wireless plan from major carriers that doesn't include voice minutes is nearly impossible. (Verizon, for instance, requires a doctor's note for its accessibility plans.) Getting a smartphone without data is also not allowed, and you can forget about buying a phone just for text messaging. Of course, these restrictions are intended to keep you from saving money, but I wonder if a more open wireless carrier would find itself with a lot more customers.

Transparency, Please

Quick, how much does each wireless carrier charge for activation? And how much for early termination? What other fees does a monthly bill entail? And under what conditions, if ever, will you be throttled for using too much data? If you don't know the answers to these questions, don't feel bad. Wireless carriers have a habit of making their fees and policies hard-to-find. Sticking vital information behind lengthy terms of service, or at the tail-end of the ordering process, is not transparency. It's obfuscation.

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